LIKE GILBERT & Sullivan's Lord High Executioner, Mozart's Leporello has a little list. Leporello is the valet of Don Giovanni (better-known to us, perhaps, as Don Juan), and the list contains the names of women -- his master's conquests. The Don has been busy, as Leporello notes: "In Italy 714, in Germany 231, 100 in France, in Turkey 91, and in Spain 1001. Among them are peasants, chambermaids and bourgeoisie, there are countesses, baronesses, marquises, princesses, women of all social levels and all ages."
Mozart's "Don Giovanni," which opens the Washington Opera's season Saturday night in the Kennedy Center Opera House, tells the story of one day in Don Juan's life -- his last -- during which he tries to add 10 or 12 names to the list, kills a man while attempting rape and finally receives his just punishment.
It is still, after nearly two centuries, something of an enigma to performers and audiences alike. Can a man like Don Giovanni, a man despised by everyone who really knows him, be considered a hero? Would Mozart give such magnificent -- such seductive -- music to a villain? Is it a tragedy or a comedy when a character like this, in the opera's spectacular finale, is dragged down to hell?
"Don Giovanni" exists in dozens of complete or partial sound recordings but is just beginning what will surely be a long, vivid career in video recording. The first home video edition to reach the American market sets a high though not unbeatable standard for other versions that will undoubtedly follow.
Filmed for British television during a 1977 performance at the Glyndebourne Festival, it has Benjamin Luxon -- an excellent, versatile British singer -- in the title role, with Stafford Dean (well-known to Washington audiences) as Leporello and tenor Leo Goeke singing well in the dramatically weak but musically superb role of Don Ottavio, the closest thing to a hero in this opera.
The three women whom the Don tries to victimize during the last day of his life are well-portrayed by Horiana Branisteanu, Rachel Yakar and Elizabeth Gale, with Bernard Haitink conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Glyndebourne Chorus.
The performance, musically fine and theatrically a bit static, is approximately what a patron can hope to see on a good night in a first-class opera house. And if its borrowed- from-television approach lacks some of the impact of a high-budget movie production, it remains a more richly satisfying vehicle for the at-home audience than a sound-only recording.
DON GIOVANNI -- At the Kennedy Center Opera House for six performances: Saturday and Monday at 7; Wednesday and November 1 and 10 at 8; November 10 at 2. Video recording: VAI.OP.7, Beta hi-fi or VHS, two cassettes, released by Video Arts International, PO Box 153, Ansonia Station, New York, NY 10023. Also available in some record shops and video stores.