Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mozart's Don Giovanni, 2000 Met Performance available on DG/Universal from Netflix


Deutsche Grammphon, Universal Pictures and Netflix offer music lovers a two-disc performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (K. 527), performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 2000, conducted by James Levine, released on DVD in 2005. Franco Ziffirelli and Gary Halvorson direct the visual staging and film part. The cast includes Bryn Terfel as Don Giovanni, Paul Groves as Don Ottavio, Rene Flemming as Donna Anna, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Leporello, and Solveig Kringelborn as Donna Elvira. The opera comprises two acts and runs just about three hours plus intermission. The complete title of the work is “Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovann” or "The Rake Punished, or Don Giovanni". The libretto is by Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Like most earlier operas, this one starts with a formal overture, famous and well structured (with the d minor introduction and a D Major Sonata allegro), but rather than ending conclusively, in an operatic performance it transitions into the first vocal scene.

During that lost freshman semester (fall 1961) at William and Mary, I had a “music friend” from California who loved to sing a couple of the arias from this opera, one of which, as I recall, was “Là ci darem la mano”, while I sightread piano in one of those soundproofed practice rooms in Ewell Hall (at least it was called that then). The music sometimes sounds declamatory, and has some recitative-style connections, but the music gains speed toward the end of each act. The music, where Don Giovanni is dragged down into the underworld, has a kind of controlled wildness, but is a match for comparable passages in Berlioz, Gounod, Boito operas on some of the same themes. The concluding chorus is performed as originally intended. Titled “So ends he who evil did. The death of a sinner always reflects his life" (Questo è il fin)”, it tells us the “moral theme” of the opera. To a modern writer, it would seem odd to structure a work that way, with a final strophe to state the moral “theme”. But, you get what you deserve – that’s the law of karma.

The story, in fact, almost seems like an 18th century novella about vigilantism, against a rogue (that is, here a reckless "Don Juan") whose behavior seems predatory to modern standards. Think about Dateline.

It is said that when Gustav Mahler died, the last word out of his mouth was “Mozart.” Late Mozart has some strangeness unmatched since, such as the continued dissonance in the finale of the F Major Quartet, and in the slow movement of the D Major Quintet. Perhaps it was Mozart who discovered the value of prolonging the tension that dissonance provides. And that Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat (K 364) has always sounded so romantic to me, as does the second movement of the D minor piano concerto, #20, K 466.

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