The big joke in Mozart’s 1787 opera “Don Giovanni” — one which he and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, must have had a good laugh over — is that the title character, aka Don Juan, the great lover, never actually consummates any of the affairs he pursues. He’s thwarted again and again by his three intended targets — Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Zerlina — and this is probably why they regarded it as a comedy (their term for it was dramma giocoso, roughly “playful drama”), even though it opens with a murder and ends with the Don being cast down to hell.
A “comedy” about a compulsive seducer? That’s something any opera company has to treat pretty gingerly these days, and Seattle Opera’s new filmed performance, though skillful, tends to avoid rather than address Don Giovanni’s challenges.
The performance, available for streaming (for $35) March 19-21 at seattleopera.org, is staged on a simple set, just one raised platform, with piano accompaniment by Jay Rozendaal and David McDade and the cast lip-syncing (quite well, but not flawlessly) to their prerecorded soundtrack conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya. Ken Christensen’s black-and-white cinematography is both luscious and crisp, down to the glinting shine on the Don’s shoes, and filming enables a few neat tricks not possible in a stage production — for example, a close-up of the Don’s scrapbook of amorous conquests, full of sketches and keepsakes.
This production, though, also cuts one full hour from “Don Giovanni’s” usual two-and-a-half-hour running time. Most of the recitatives — the half-spoken, half-sung dialogues that link one musical number to the next — are omitted, but plot points lost thereby are explained by captions, a canny solution. Also gone are large chunks of Mozart’s overture and both act finales, plus another half-dozen arias and ensembles altogether.