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When Martin Kusej´s Don Giovanni opened in Salzburg, Anna Netrebko was Donna Anna with Nikolaus Harnoncourt on the podium. However, in 2006, Anna Netrebko and Nikolaus Harnoncourt performed in Nozze di Figaro next door, leaving the Donna Anna to Christine Schäfer and the podium to Daniel Harding in the Grosses Festspielhaus.
Set on a revolving white stage with multiple rooms, this Don Giovanni is about existential loneliness, emptiness, superficial sexuality and death. Don Giovanni is "a living hurricane of chaos and anarchy" who must "devour other people´s existence to prove his own worth" (Thomas Hampson). Semi-naked models parade as an amorphous mass. Very appropriately the "Deh vieni" is adressed to no-one (originally Don G sings this to Elvira´s maid) and when the song is over, the stage goes dark.
Such existence is not compatible within modern society, which is why Leporello kills him in the end, about 10 seconds before he would have died anyway, though. This Don Giovanni is someone you simply want to diesappear. However Leporello and Don Giovanni change recitatives as well as clothes - two of the same sort obviously.
Apart from the fact that I prefer a basso cantante as opposed to Thomas Hampson´s lyrical baritone, Don Giovanni is one of his best roles. While I find his work in repertoire such as Macbeth, Simon Boccanegra and Amfortas downright irritating, he seems much closer to his artistic core in this repertoire, also more suitable for his voice. Furthermore he is a superb actor and commands the stage.
Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Leporello is energetic and looks great onstage, both of which goes a long way to compensate for the fact that his voice is not very pleasant.
Christine Schäfer is lighter than usual as Donna Anna, but very stylish. Melanie Diener was in more trouble as Donna Elvira, but neverthess fine. Isabel Bayrakdarian was superb as Zerlina, while Robert Lloyd was slightly more irritating than usual as the Commendatore. Piotr Beczala gets away with Don Ottavio without being irritating - not a small accomplishment.
Upon repeated viewing I must admit to tire of Daniel Harding´s reading - initially I found it dynamic, now I cannot help feeling he competes with Bertrand De Billy in presenting a Salzburg Don Giovanni with as few ideas as possible. You may not like all of Nikolaus Harnoncourt´s ideas. But at least he has plenty to chose from.
Musically, the best DVD is the Furtwängler performance, if one is up for watching the old film. If not, this is not a bad choice at all.
Thomas Hampson, Ildebrando D´Arcangelo: Orsu, spicciato presto
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Thomas Hampson: 4
Ildebrando D´Arcangelo: 4
Christine Schäfer: 4
Melanie Diener: 3-4
Isabel Bayrakdarian: 4
Piotr Beczala: 4
Luca Pisaroni: 4
Martin Kusej´s production: 4
Daniel Harding: 3
Overall impression: 4