Although it has many great moments, this Don Giovanni, pieced together from a run of live performances in January and February 1997, struggles to find its stride. Abbado brings out orchestral textures and colors that other conductors often overlook, but his tempo choices frequently feel slow, sapping important moments of their energy. The opening scene, Donna Anna's arias, and the all-important second act finale all drag like a ball and chain. The result is a recording that has many drawbacks of a live recording -- the more distant focus and occasional sloppiness -- but rarely the energy or cohesion.
Simon Keenlyside is an excellent Giovanni; he has the ideal blend of vocal qualities for the job, and finds the sneer behind the lothario's winning smile. Bryn Terfel was born to play Leporello, singing the part with a gruff abandon and charm that few have ever matched; he goes over the top sometimes, but you'll forgive him for it. Of the rest of the cast, only Soile Isokoski and Ildebrando D'arcangelo make strong impressions. But D'arcangelo is largely wasted on the small role of Masetto (his Leporello for John Eliot Gardiner is fantastic), and Isokoski, although a stunning singer, never quite lets Donna Elvira catch fire in the way she often can. As Donna Anna, Carmela Remigio struggles with Abbado's slow tempos in her two arias, and occasionally sounds strident on top. Uwe Heilmann's vocally tentative Ottavio doesn't add much to the production. And Patrizia Pace's Zerlina, while pretty, lacks character. In the end, the reasons to recommend this recording are Keenlyside's Giovanni, Terfel's Leporello, and the playing of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Abbado. But if you're looking for a great recording of the opera, there are better rounded and more exciting choices to consider first.