The other night I watched the Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a 1955 filmed version of what is essentially a stage production starring Cesare Siepi in the title role. He’s somehow perfect for the role, even though it is a baritone part and Siepi is a bass. The rest of the cast is equally good. But I was especially impressed with Otto Edelmann, who plays the part of Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello. It wasn’t that his singing was especially great. He just has a great stage presence and is perfect for the likable but easily led character.
What most struck me in the film, however, is not the production per se. It was simply that it was a theater performance. I’ve seen a couple of actual film productions of it. But I’ve always been a little disappointed because the cinematic qualities tend to distract from the experience. In particular, there is a good too much moving about in the play. For example, the play effectively ends in Don Giovanni’s house and that is the first time we’ve been there! Unity of time, it has. Unity of place, not so much.
In a proper film, there is a strong tendency to explicitly move from one scene to the next. But it isn’t just that. It isn’t enough for actors to just stand and sing. That would largely be boring, so directors have them moving to and fro. But on the stage, the characters are allowed to stop moving around and sing. And I thought it worked remarkably well.
There is another aspect of it. It’s all kind of silly. Don Giovanni is not in any way a realistic character. And the climax of the play is when the statue (of a man Don Giovanni killed earlier) comes to dinner, asks Don Giovanni to repent his evil ways, and than drags him down to hell. Moralistic talking statues work a whole lot better on the stage than they do on the screen. (The same thing can be said about the ghost of Hamlet’s father.)
So here is the whole thing via YouTube. I will have to check out other stage versions. It is, after all, a hell of a fun opera.