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MOZART: Don Giovanni

spacer Papatanasiu, Remigio, Bisceglie; D’Arcangelo, Miller, Concetti, Corrò, Iori; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro la Fenice, Frizza. Production: Pizzi. Unitel Classica C Major 717504 (Blu-ray), 717408 (DVD) (2 discs), 174 mins., subtitled

DonGiovPizziDVD

These two takes on Don Giovanni minimize the title character’s criminal activities as rapist and murderer and portray him instead as a charismatic and reckless playboy. For performances at Covent Garden in February 2014, director Kasper Holten presented an aloof Don, immaculately sung and attractively embodied by Mariusz Kwiecien, lacking the intellectual rigor to confront existential questions but searching for meaning in voyeurism and one-night stands. In Pier Luigi Pizzi’s concept for the Sferisterio Opera Festival in Macerata, the Don, gloriously voiced by the lithe and athletic Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, is a superficial party boy who hurls himself at life, using physical contact to mask his perplexed and shallow existence.

In spite of Nicola Luisotti’s often plodding, big-house tempos, Holten’s production is all about Es Devlin’s set, a two-story maze of stairways, balustrades and doorways encouraging eavesdropping and secrecy, but which also suggests cages and confinement. It’s a highly intellectualized concept, in which ghostly women representing the Don’s real or imagined partners wander about, Donna Anna (the compelling Malin Byström) is complicit in her father’s murder, and Zerlina (the full-voiced and visually expressive Elizabeth Watts) is a lusty social climber. 

Video projections by Luke Halls and lighting by Bruno Poet provide a hallucinatory overlay of names (corresponding exactly to the number of the Don’s conquests), blood, ink stains and psychological symbols, which Holten and Devlin explain in their full-length commentary. Although much is lost in the video version — what are the flying birds accompanying Donna Elvira’s “Mi tradì,” and how does the Commendatore appear at the party that ends Act I? — details, such as the Don’s seduction of Zerlina with sensuous play of hand and glove, are captured beautifully. Dawid Kimberg’s unusually layered Masetto also benefits from close camera work, as do Veronique Gens’s tormented Elvira and the excellent Leporello of Alex Esposito.

In contrast to Holten’s humorless, psychological staging — in which the Don does not die but appears to suffer a mental breakdown — Pizzi’s intimate version exudes sexual ease and playful movement, executed in a realistic rococo style. The small, bare stage, dominated by a bed, lends the show an improvisatory feel, as if a wandering troupe had just dropped in to put on a morality play. In fact, without the sound, this almost looks like straight theater, so fine are Pizzi’s performers and Riccardo Frizza’s supple musical leadership. 

Similarity in coloring and hairstyle among the three sopranos, as well as the women of the chorus, highlights their interchangeability in the eyes of the Don. In the role of Donna Anna, Myrtò Papatanasiu boasts a dark-hued, cultivated voice with a spacious bloom on top, which brings texture to her repressed, intense characterization, while Manuela Bisceglie’s Zerlina is unusually erotic in voice and movement. Carmela Remigio’s search for intensity as Donna Elvira results in an unrelentingly forced vocal production that eventually tires the ear.

At the center of a depraved, party-obsessed society, D’Arcangelo’s desperately disheveled but sumptuously voiced Don dresses in Mephistophelean red for his ritual of nightly cruising, and he throws a party that courts danger and violence. Leporello (the excellent Andrea Concetti) gets his share of sexual pleasure when Elvira is turned on by his cataloguing of the Don’s exploits. Pizzi’s visually arresting and theatrically compelling production is the better choice of the two. spacer 

JUDITH MALAFRONTE

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