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 Recording of the Week  New DVDs from Glyndebourne

The Glyndebourne Opera season started this weekend and I was lucky enough to be invited down last Thursday to the dress rehearsal of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It is a revival of the Jonathan Kent production which was new at last year’s festival and features a terrific set designed by Paul Brown with a huge spinning cube as its centrepiece. During the opera this cube opens, unfolds, hides and ultimately disintegrates in a similar pattern to the ultimate fate of Don Giovanni. Last year’s production has recently been released on DVD by EMI but with a completely different cast and a different conductor this year it made an interesting comparison.

Anna Virovlansky and Gerald Finley
Anna Virovlansky and Gerald Finley

While Lucas Meachem and Matthew Rose make an excellent Don Giovanni and Leporello pair this year, last year’s combination of Gerald Finley and Luca Pisaroni on the DVD is equally impressive, with Finley (who has sung the role to great acclaim all over the world) undoubtedly one of the great Don Giovannis of our time.

It is set in the late 1950s, with a slightly surreal element, and unlike most productions the fire comes at the end of Act I rather than Act II as a lightning bolt from god sets Don Giovanni’s house alight and traps Don Giovanni in his own hell. Act II then just gets colder and colder, with snow falling bleakly during Giovanni’s serenade and no fiery inferno to pull him into at the end. This will come as a surprise to many familiar with the opera, but there are plenty of references to cold hells in mythologies, religions, art and literature, (Dante’s Inferno for example has a frozen lake of blood and guilt portraying the innermost circle of hell) and I thought it worked very well here.

The other opera from Glyndebourne’s 2010 season which has just been released on DVD (and Blu-ray) is Michael Grandage’s production of Billy Budd – one of Britten’s most famous operas but surprisingly the first staging ever at Glyndebourne. The all-male opera with a libretto co-written by E M Forster and Eric Crozier is based on the battle between pure good and blind evil, and is set on a British man-o’-war ship. I was lucky enough to see it live in the theatre last year and found it both hugely powerful and deeply moving.

The opera is set onboard the HMS Indomitable with the staging plunging you deep inside the hull of the vessel. It worked really well in the theatre where the auditorium also felt like part of the ship, and although you obviously can’t quite transfer that to the small screen I still found the it very effective at drawing you inside the drama.

It is hard to find weaknesses amongst the large cast with Phillip Ens dark and resonant Claggart and Jacques Imbrailo’s fresh and athletic Billy particularly outstanding. John Mark Ainsley’s Captain Vere is pretty fine too and the chorus are excellent.

The other thing I must just comment on about both productions is the superb quality of the orchestral playing. In the Mozart the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski provide not only great attention to detail, but also great energy, and although modest in numbers and limited by the design of their period instruments, the sheer volume that they achieve as Don Giovanni is being dragged away at the end is quite mind-blowing. Equally impressive are the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Mark Elder in the Britten where Elder’s strong conviction to the score’s momentum extracts real dramatic intensity from his players.

There are short introductory videos for both productions via the links below which provide some fascinating insights behind the scenes. Glyndebourne is clearly in a real purple-patch at the moment and which will hopefully continue until at least next weekend when I’m off to see their new Meistersinger!

Mozart: Don Giovanni (DVD)

Gerald Finley (Don Giovanni), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Kate Royal (Donna Elvira), Anna Samuil (Donna Anna), William Burden (Ottavio), Anna Virovlansky (Zerlina), Guido Loconsolo (Masetto), Alastair Miles (Commendatore) The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment & Glyndebourne Chorus, Vladimir Jurowski (conductor) & Jonathan Kent (director)

Available Format: DVD Video

Britten: Billy Budd (DVD)

John Mark Ainsley (Captain Vere), Jacques Imbrailo (Billy Budd), Phillip Ens (Claggart), Iain Paterson (Mr Redburn), Matthew Rose (Mr Flint), Darren Jeffery (Lieutenant Ratcliffe), Alasdair Elliott (Red Whiskers), John Moore (Donald), Jeremy White (Dansker), Ben Johnson (Novice), Colin Judson (Squeak) & Richard Mosley-Evans (Bosun) The Glyndebourne Chorus & London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mark Elder (conductor) & Michael Grandage (director)

Available Format: DVD Video

Britten: Billy Budd (Blu-ray)

John Mark Ainsley (Captain Vere), Jacques Imbrailo (Billy Budd), Phillip Ens (Claggart), Iain Paterson (Mr Redburn), Matthew Rose (Mr Flint), Darren Jeffery (Lieutenant Ratcliffe), Alasdair Elliott (Red Whiskers), John Moore (Donald), Jeremy White (Dansker), Ben Johnson (Novice), Colin Judson (Squeak) & Richard Mosley-Evans (Bosun) The Glyndebourne Chorus & London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mark Elder (conductor) & Michael Grandage (director)

Available Format: Blu-ray