After the success of Così fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro, René Jacobs' CD recording of this centrepiece of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy offered us his reflections on Classical opera and garnered serious acclaim worldwide. Performed at the Innsbruck festival in August 2006 and filmed in Baden-Baden, this production is nourished by his thoughts on Don Giovanni as taboo-breaker but still respects Mozart's intentions as closely as possible.
In the documentary Looking for Don Giovanni, the director Nayo Titzin follows the creation of this production in the search for musical truth.
As in the case of "Cosi", Solti recorded "Don Giovanni" twice, the first time in 1978. It was a work he had loved since he heard Bruno Walter conduct it in Salzburg in 1936, with Ezio Pinza in the title role. His 1978 performance is distinguished by the presence of some of the leading Mozartian singers of the day, notably Margaret Price's Donna Anna, Stuart Burrows's Don Ottavio and Lucia Popp's Zerlina. Appreciable quantities, too, are Bernd Weikl's potent Giovanni, Gabriel Bacquier' demotic Leporello and Sylvia Sass's flamboyant Donna Elvira.
Don Giovanni, a libertine, a rake with a devil-may-care attitude, is portrayed magnificently by Teddy Tahu Rhodes in this Opera Australia production, where he first appears on stage in a costume where less is definitely more! Charismatic and sexy, Rhodes’ acting and singing are magnificent. His misused servant, Leporello, is played by Conal Coad, who skilfully promotes the opera’s comic elements whilst delivering a thumping bass full of drama.
Mozart’s sublime tragic comedy offers boundless scope for directors, and Kasper Holten has chosen it to follow his directorial debut of Eugene Onegin. He wanted to shift the emphasis from Don Giovanni’s sex life into a darker place, showing Giovanni’s womanizing as an attempt to stave off his own mortality. Each woman he seduces represents a life he could have had. Though it is a dark piece, Holten handles it with a light touch and works with a superb cast – Mariusz Kwiecien, one of the world’s leading Don Giovannis, Alex Esposito, a fresh, vigorous Leporello and acclaimed French soprano Véronique Gens.
The booklet flags the “impressive similarity” between Giuseppe Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni, premiered in February 1787, and Mozart’s masterpiece first heard in Prague later the same year. True, there are occasional superficial musical resemblances; and while Da Ponte despised the librettist Giovanni Bertati as a “dramatic cobbler”, he was happy to appropriate many of his ideas for his own Don Giovanni libretto. What strikes you time and again, though, is the fathomless gulf between Gazzaniga’s casually structured one-act romp, designed as a play-within-a-play for the Venice Carnival, and Mozart’s tragi-comic masterpiece.