René Jacobs is an acknowledged master of informed period performance practice, and he turns his considerable arsenal of research, insight, and experience to Don Giovanni, which he maintains has become so mired in misguided nineteenth century interpretive traditions that most modern performances badly misrepresent Mozart's intentions. He points out that operatic roles in Mozart's time were clearly differentiated by type -- serious (such as Donna Anna, Don Ottavio, the Commendatore), which required the most musical virtuosity; comic (Leporello, Zerlina, Masetto), which were primarily required to be performed by gifted singing comedians; and roles that required both serious and buffo characteristics, such as Donna Elvira and Don Giovanni -- and that these distinctions must be observed for the opera to make its full impact. He further points out that Don Giovanni is not the middle-aged (or aging) lecher as he is so often portrayed, but a slightly older version of Octavian whose voice has changed, whose intent is not so much evil as rebellious, an especially libidinous and ambitious James Dean type, and in support, he notes that da Ponte describes the Don as a youth. Jacobs further argues for taking a fresh look at traditional tempos, citing a close reading of the score that reveals symmetries and logical tempo relationships that have been largely overlooked in modern performances.
Jacobs puts his innovative interpretations into practice in this studio recording based on a production by the 2006 Innsbruck Festival. The Freiburger Barockorchester plays with an appealing fleetness and summons plenty of power when the score requires. Jacobs surprisingly uses a pianoforte as the continuo instrument rather than a harpsichord, but it is played so fetchingly by Giorgio Paronuzzi that the ear quickly adjusts. The very young cast is uniformly fine, completely at ease in both the music's virtuosic and interpretive demands, and with the fluency to deliver the recitatives with all the agility and sense of timing they require. Johannes Weisser is a virile and lively Don Giovanni, but he lacks the vocal weight and authority usually associated with the role, in keeping with Jacobs' conception. Lorenzo Regazzo sings Leporello with great suppleness, but seems young for the role and doesn't have the ideal roughness to play off the Don's elegance. The women are strongly differentiated; Alexandrina Pendatchanska is a passionate and virtuosically accomplished Donna Elvira, Olga Pasichnyk is an imperious Donna Anna, and Sunhae Im's Zerlina is adorably kittenish. Kenneth Tarver's Don Ottavio stands out for his clarion delivery and limpid phrasing. Nikolay Borchev's Masetto is appropriately simple, but Alessandro Guerzoni's Commendatore doesn't sound substantial and imposing enough. Overall, in spite of the excellence and appropriateness of its many details, and some fine comic singing, the production comes across as more studied than genuinely fun -- Mozart does describe it as a "Dramma giocoso." The sound quality is theatrically realistic, details are clearly audible, and there is good balance between the singers and the orchestra.