DON GIOVANNI -- West End Circle.
Loving opera does not necessarily lead to loving filmed opera, in the movies or on television, no matter how excellent the credentials of those making the film. By its nature, filmed opera uses mechanically reproduced sound and it subjects broad theatrical conventions to the literal scrutiny of the camera.
So your true opera fan will usually concede, at most, that an opera movie is only better than no opera, and perhaps a useful way of introducing the form to people who will then go and support the real thing.
The new film of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" is more than that. If you had a choice between hearing the opera live and seeing the film, you should insist on doing both.
The film was made with an orchestra and choir from the Paris Opera, under the direction of Lorin Maazel, and a cast of fine singers who also carry the acting, but that is not the reason it is so good. It is still not live sound, nor even comparble to what the best phonographic equipment can reproduce.
The triumph of this "Don Giovanni" is Joseph Losey's use of film to interpret the story with a range and depth that is quite different from what is possible on stage. Such a contribution is what is pompously called "a unique cinematic art form" -- and in this case, it really is.
The Don Giovanni, sung by Ruggero Raimondi, has a face that betrays a close relationship between sex and brutality. He lives in a Palladio palace near Vincenzo, in a luxury we are able to see in layers -- not just the ballrooms, but the extent of backstairs labor necessary to produce that baroque ballroom life. His arrogant unaccountability to anyone is evident not only in his treatment of women, but in the fact that he has no qualms about being seen in his viciousness by all the world.
In Kiri Te Kanawa's Donna Elvira, one sees the tyranny of passion itself, turning beauty to bitterness -- but a bitterness still stupidly cherishing the hope of going back to the beautiful. The Zerlina and Masetto of Teresa Berganza and Malcolm King provide a witty commentary on vanity and on workaday love, as opposed to dramatic love.
Masks, costumes, wigs, murals, mirrors, canals, storms, sunshine, legions of supernumeraries -- all of these are used lavishly to flesh out this story about decadent sensuality. When Elvira's eyes glitter through the grating of a confessional, or Donna Anna agonizes against the perfect perspective of the palace, its memorably revealing. There's such richness available to the camera that when the stage cliche of dry ice on the floor is employed, it seems like a gyp. We can see dry ice any day of the week at the Kennedy Center, but not the splendor of Don Giovanni's true setting.
Another unique characteristic of the film is that it can give the opera a flow uninterrupted by bows and changes of scenery. And the use of English subtitles highlights the marvelous irony in the libretto.
This isn't a filmed version of an opera; it's an original interpretation of the opera on film.