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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"By tomorrow morning, you must add ten names to my list."
DVD ReviewThe legend of Don Juan has inspired creators as diverse as Lord Byron and George Bernard Shaw. But few adaptations are as notable as the opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte. This filmed version is not restricted to a stage location, but is instead shot on location in Vincenza, Italy. The effect gives an impressive openness to the production and lends it immediacy and realism, despite being completely sung. Notorious seducer Don Giovanni (Ruggero Raimundi), with the help of his servant Leporello (Jose van Dam) is working his way across Europe, one woman at a time. When his efforts on Donna Anna (Edda Moser) are spoiled by her father, the Commendatore (John Macurdy), Don Giovanni kills him. Donna Anna and her sweetheart, Don Ottavio (Kenneth Riegle), swear vengeance on Don Giovanni. Meanwhile, spurned lover Donna Elvira (Kiri Te Kanawa) is in pursuit as well, though she wavers between love and hatred. Don Giovanni moves on to a servant girl, Zerlina (Teresa Berganza), which does not amuse her fiancé, Masetto (Malcolm King), and the various routes of revenge all come together in a supernatural climax. The singing, acting and costuming here are all first-rate. Raimundi makes an appealing Don Giovanni, and it's easy to believe he could be a seducer; at the same time, Moser and Te Kanawa are attractive enough to make them believable conquests. Don Giovanni rises or falls on the strength of its Leporello, however, and Jose van Dam does an excellent job with a part that calls for comedy, slyness and abject terror. Riegle is a bit weak as Don Ottavio, but Te Kanawa more than makes up for it with her passions of different flavors. A minor quibble is that I found it difficult to tell Riegle and van Dam apart physically, and this led to some frequent rewinding to figure out what was happening with the action; a bigger difference in their costuming would have been useful.As mentioned above, the use of cinematic rather than typical operatic staging makes this a more open and involving production than one usually sees. In particular, the use of the canals of Vincenza gives a 16th century atmosphere not possible on a stage. The unfolding of Leporello's catalog of the Don's conquests takes place at the head of a flight of stairs, and the catalog comically stretches all the way down the stairs and across a courtyard before the dumbfounded Donna Elvira. This is very much a comic highlight of the opera and one of the most memorable images of the film. The special effects are minimal here; the Stone Commendatore is mostly shrouded in shadow and is generally unconvincing. However, the fires of hell sequence is built on the carefully foreshadowed glassworks within Don Giovanni's palace, providing a natural flame without having to resort to big budget effects that probably would have looked unnecessarily cheesy anyway.Director Joseph Losey is not afraid to use the camera aggressively, and it works for the sweeping views of Italy that are presented here. Losey also makes a notable addition, that of a silent valet (Eric Adjani), who looks much like a young Don Giovanni. His appearance is a combination of the innocent and the sinister, and like the little girl in Toby Dammit, appears to represent a demonic figure slyly observing and silently encouraging the Don's descent. While obviously not called for in da Ponte's libretto, it works well on a cinematic basis and helps provide a resonance to the story.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture appears to accurately capture the look of the film. The woodcuts in the opening titles are sharp, detailed and gorgeous. The film is rather soft, but this appears to have been an intentional decision by the director. Colors are rather subdued in a late 1970s manner as well. Some of the interiors are rather grainy, and the daylight exteriors dissolve into a soft sea of light. When there is a moving transition between the two, the camera doesn't seem to be able to recover quickly, leading to a less than happy result. But this appears to be a limitation of the source material rather than a transfer problem and thus the grade is not lowered. Occasional dust and speckling are visible but overall the appearance is quite pleasing.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround track is generally quite good. The vocals come from the front soundstage, with minor echoes from the surrounds. The orchestra comes from all speakers, and occasionally overwhelms the vocals a bit. I question whether this is part of the original mix, since it seems to detract from the vocal presentation, which to my mind is the proper focus of an opera. The thunderclaps that end act one are lacking in depth and presence. Towards the end of chapter 5 there is a two-second bit of tape warbling in the audio that I found quite unacceptable. However, the hiss and noise factor that are prominent on the trailer are much reduced here, which is a very good thing.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Oliver!, Madame Butterfly
Layers Switch: 01h:31m:38s
Extras Review: The only extras are a hissy and noisy trailer for the film that includes most, if not all, of the overture. Nonanamorphic 2.35:1 trailers for Oliver! and Madame Butterfly are included as well. Chaptering is acceptable, though it does not exactly parallel either the scene changes or the musical numbers. The layer change is well placed on a black screen between acts and slips by without notice.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsAn attractive performance of Mozart's opera on location, freed of stagebound conventions, makes the most of its presentation. For the most part excellent aurally, the lack of extras is a little disappointing.
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