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DOI, Digital Objetc Identifier 10.4185/RLCS-2017-1217en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS, 72-2017 | Audio-visual explanation of the author |

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How to cite this article in bibliograhies / References

I Villanueva-Benito, I Lacasa-Mas (2017): “The use of audiovisual language in the expansion of performing arts outside theater: Don Giovanni’s case, by Mozart”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 72, pp. 1.238 to 1.260.
DOI: 10.4185/RLCS-2017-1217-67en

The use of audiovisual language in the expansion of performing arts outside theater: Don Giovanni’s case, by Mozart

Isabel Villanueva-Benito [CV] [oORCID] [gGS] Associate professor. Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Spain). Visiting Researcher. University of Los Angeles, California (United States). ivillanueva@uic.es

Iván Lacasa-Mas [CV] [oORCID] [gGS] Associate professor. Universitat Internacional de Catalunya. Visiting Scholar, University of Texas at Austin, Texas (United States). lacasa@uic.es

Introduction: This paper studies opera films of centuries XX and XXI, in order to identify whether the language used is closer to the theater standards of the performing arts typical of live or those of audiovisual media. Methodology: We have performed an exhaustive contents analysis of the end of the first act from 29 filmed versions of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, according to three categories: type of film, type of camera shots used and type of editing. From these, we evaluated 41 variables. Results: We conclude that, with the purpose to expand a performance such as the operatic outside theaters, even in the XXI century, live still limits the form of films. Our paper highlights that it is not enough to transfer operatic contents to mediatic platforms, but making the most of the audiovisual language to generate narrative sense is also needed. We suggest several ways to do so.

Opera, audiovisual communication, Don Giovanni, Performing Arts, language, media.

1. Introduction 2. Methods. 2.1. Sample. 2.2. Methodological procedure. 3. Research results. 3.1. Results about the type of film. 3.2. Results about the type of camera shots used. 3.3. Results about the type of audiovisual editing. 4. Conclusions. 5. Notes. 6. List of references.

Translation by Yuhanny Henares (Universitat de Barcelona)

 [ Research ] [ Funded ] 
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1. Introduction

From the beginning of the XX century, the adaptation of a musical-theatrical performance to an audiovisual platform such as the cinematographic or the television has constituted a way of extending the original performance outside stages (Citron, 2000; Vanderbeeken, 2011). Moving a pre-existing performance to a new platform and language has been considered a complex process from the artistic perspective, since it is conditioned by the original performance, represented in theaters (Benjamin, 2005; Adorno, 2006; Zizek and Dolar, 2002; Auslander, 2008). In the specific case of filmed operas, essential elements of the original performance, such as music, staging or script, have determined the aesthetics and the language of these operatic films (Villanueva, 2014). The theories of the last 30 years regarding the adaptation of the operatic live performance to the screen have built a yet unsolved dialectic discourse (Auslander, 2008; Senici, 2009; Morris, 2010; Esse, 2010) [1]. Live comprises an essential feature of the opera, which affects other constitutive elements such as music or bel canto (Aubrey and Garlington, 1982; Parker, 1998; Ishaghpour, 1995; Radigales, 1999). In its movement towards the audiovisual discourse, this condition typical from the opera which is live, seems that should be lost, but the fact is that it continued determining the way in which the performance is reinterpreted into a new language. Besides basic audiovisual tools, the use of platforms and specific codes such as the cinematographic, televisual or videographic, ends up transforming, from the semiotic perspective, the opera in each one of the screens (Reason, 2004; Anderson, 2011; Barker, 2012; Vladica and Davis, 2013).

For more than 100 years, creators believed they should grant operatic films mainly a disseminative mission and have filmed them according to a criteria of fidelity to the original performance (Auslander, 2008; Senici, 2010; Anderson, 2011; Cenciarelli, 2013). Through the application of a transparent aesthetic or, in any case, respectful with the art’s stylistic standards, the opera has prioritized respecting and preserving the aura of the original performative work —Werktreue [2]—, above the adoption of the language characteristic of every media (Lacasa and Villanueva, 2011). Forms closer to the theatrical standards of its splendor era —XIX century— have imposed instead of forms demanded by the contemporary audiovisual language and the platform used in every case. Even in the more updated films, adapted to the cinematographic, televisual or videographic format, there is the trend to associate fidelity to the original performance with a type of language and transparent aesthetics, very limited in audiovisual terms (Levin, 2011; Gordillo, 2008). However, it is worth asking ourselves whether the assumption that is the most accurate way to reproduce the essence of its art, isn’t somewhat aprioristic.

According to our opinion, the use of the audiovisual language by operatic films during XX and XXI centuries, despite it attempted to safeguard the fidelity to the original performance, it admits many nuances, because at the same time, it is undeniable that it intended to adapt said performance to specific platforms and standards as well. This work is focused precisely on studying how these films were elaborated from the audiovisual perspective to weight whether the document style, which ended up being dominant in the sector (Morris, 2010; Steichen, 2011) reproduces the performance in a more faithful manner or if, on the contrary, the use of a freer language could create films that, still being operas, turned out to be more coherent with the potentialities of audiovisual platforms.

In this paper we have focused on the study of operatic films recorded with the expressed intention of being distributed in cinemas, television, streaming or domestic video. A double objective has driven us:

    1. To identify how the different elements of the audiovisual language in operatic films have been used, in order to confirm whether they are used in such a way that they generate a typically audiovisual language and are helpful in building narrative sense.

    2. To know whether, after the incorporation of filming systems and digital streaming in theaters from the XXI centuries, films produced during the last decade and a half, show significative differences from the audiovisual perspective compared to those produced in the XX century.

2. Methods

To perform the analysis, we have selected the audiovisual production of an opera of international reference, Don Giovanni, by W.A. Mozart. This performance has been one of the most represented operas in international theaters of the last 60 years (Goehr and Herwitz, 2006; Campana, 2009). Likewise, it constitutes one of the musical pieces that more audiovisual adaptations has generated on cinema, television and video during the XX century and part of XXI (DuMont, 2000; Remy, 1979) [3]. The performance arrived to the cinema very early, when on 1900 a brief musical and visual adaptation of one of the scenes of the opera was done, with the motive of the Universal Exposition held in Paris (Wlaschin, 2004). The first cinematographic adaptation of Don Giovanni preserved is the English film that the London Opera Company versioned for cinema on the year 1947. Since then, Don Giovanni was brought to the big screen in the cinema repeatedly and re-interpreted for television more than 12 times during the 50’s of the past century (Barnes, 2003). In 1979 the famous version of Joseph Losey for cinemas was released and, from the 80’s, more than 15 European and American productions were registered, most of them adaptations for television and video of performative versions of theaters such as Zurich Opera, Regio di Parma Theater or the Metropolitan Opera House of New York. In the XXI century, the fondness for filming this title’s productions have not done otherwise but increase (Will, 2011: 32-34). According to the Operabase data, for instance, in the year 2015,  259 productions of this opera in more than 40 theaters of European and American cities were planned. Many of them were filmed in situ and afterwards broadcast by free-to-air and digital channels such as RTVE, ARTE or Mezzo.

2.1. Sample

We have gathered a sample of 29 audiovisual versions, made during XX and XXI centuries. To define the first part of the sample, we used as reference, of international relevance, the document Encyclopedia of Opera on Screen: A Guide to More Than 100 Years of Opera Films, Videos, and DVD, published by Ken Wlaschin at the end of the 90 in the past century and updated by himself on 2004. It is a directory including the descriptive cards of operatic audiovisual products that were brought to the big screen in United States and Europe, during the XX century and the first years of the XXI century. From the 23 Don Giovanni files registered in the second edition, we analyzed 12. We tried that our sample included performances produced in different countries and that it covered  the maximum number of years possible, that the production had international relevance (either due to the theater, the director or the cast), that the filming format was varied (VHS, DVD or streaming) and, logically, that it were available. We used these same criteria to enrich the sample of the XX century and to add 9 films released between 2005 and 2013.

We describe the performances, grouped depending on the century they belong to, as follows:


Table 1. XX Century



Type of audiovisual product

Audiovisual format of distribution

Record label

Music Director

Audiovisual Director/Art

Language and duration


Telecast from studio for television. Filmed without public

Production of the Salzburg Festival for television. Filmed from a studio in Vienna.

Deutsche Grammophon, Unitel

Paul Czinner

Herbert Graf

Italian and black&white 129’


Telecast from studio for television: RAI broadcasting channel

 Telecast of the Italian Radio television of Milan —RAI—, pre-recorded for national television.

Videoartists International Inc, RAI Trade

Francesco Molinari-Pradelli

Giacomo Vaccari

Italian and black&white 163’


Film from theater: Deutsche Oper Berlin

Production filmed live for German television and broadcast pre-recorded one day after the release — on September 23, 1961—.

ArtHaus Musik

Ferenc Fricsay

Rolf Unkel

Italian and black&white 166’


Film from theater: Metropolitan Opera House of New York

Production filmed live to be broadcast as pre-recorded from the Met for the State’s television.

Pioneer Classics PC

Richard Bonynge

Herbert Graf

Italian with English subtitles.
Color   190’


Film from theater: Gran Teatre del Liceu

Production for the national television, recorded live with mobile equipment and broadcast for national television.

Gran Teatre del Liceu

Alexander Sander

Jose Luis Mendizabal

Italian      Color            173’


Film from theater: The Victoria State Opera

Production from the theater, recorded live to be broadcast as pre-recorded by a Melbourne channel.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Richard Divall

Stephen Jones

Italian      Color, 180


Film from theater: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Archive product to be distributed in domestic video.

 Production in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Vienna, broadcast as pre-recorded from the theater, within the Salzburg Festival program.

Sony Classical

Herbert Von Karajan

Claus Viller

Italian      Color            193’


Film from theater: Teatro Alla Scala of Milan. Archive product to be distributed in domestic video

Production from the theater Alla Scala of Milan, for live broadcast of the Italian RAI television.

Opus Arte

Ricardo Muti

Giorgio Strehler

Italian with English subtitles.
Color   176’


Film from theater: Covent Garden

Production for BBC television, recorded from the theater by the London’s National Opera ROH.


Colin Davis 

Peter Wood 

Italian      Color, 178


Film from theater: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Archive product to be distributed in domestic video

Pre-recorded broadcast for national television, but recorded live from the theater.

Co-production of Channel 3/sat

Claudio Abbado

Does not appear in credits 

Italian with English subtitles.
Color   176’


Film from theater: Metropolitan Opera of New York

Production for BBC television BBC, recorded from the theater by the London’s National Opera ROH.

The Metropolitan Opera 

 James Levine

Brian Large 

Italian      Color, 179


Telecast from Vienna studio for television: PBS broadcasting channel

Original production for Pepsico Summerfare Festival and International Performing Arts Festival of New York, versioned in studio for its later television broadcast, from Emil Berliner Studios, in Vienna.


Craig Smith

Peter Sellars

Italian with English subtitles.
Color   190’


Film from theater: Cologne’s Great Theater

Production from the Cologne theater of pre-recorded broadcast for television.

ArtHaus Musik

James Conlon

Michael Hampe/José Montés Baquer

Italian with English subtitles.
Color   173’


Film from theater: Prague State Opera

Production from the Prague State Opera of pre-recorded broadcast for television.


Charles Mackerras

Michal Caban

Italian with English subtitles.
Color   156’


Telecast from studio for television: ZDF/3sat broadcasting channel

Production of Decca London staged with marionettes from the Salzburger Marionettentheater, hosted by Peter Ustinov, filmed and broadcast as pre-recorded by the television channel ZDF/3sat.

DECCA London

Erich Leinsdorf

Volker Weiker

Italian      Color, 153


Film from theater: La Fenice of Venice for national television.

Live record from La Fenice of Venice to be broadcast live and pre-recorded by channel RAITRE

 Canal Raitre

Isaac Krabtchev-sky 

Ilio Catani 

Italian      Color,


Film from theater

Production within the Aix-en Provence Festival, recorded for its possible pre-recorded broadcast for television.

 Bel Air Classiques

Daniel Harding 

Peter Brook/ Vincent Bataillon 

Italian      Color,


Pre-recorded telecast from the theater: Metropolitan Opera of New York for PBS chain. Recorded in October 2000

Reposition of the popular production of Zeffirelli dated 1990.  Pre-recorded and broadcast by television two months after for the whole country, on December 27, 2000.

Deutsche Grammophon

James Levine

Franco Zefirelli/ Gary Halvorson

Italian with English subtitles.
Color   191’

*Note: the sample has been ranked according to the year of production of the original performance, not the date of the DVD edition analyzed.

Table 2. XXI Century 



Type of audiovisual product

Audiovisual format of distribution

Record label

Music Director

Audiovisual Director/Art

Language and duration


Film from theater: Opernhaus de Zürich

Production from the theater for the German television.

Opernhaus Zürich

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Jürgen Flimm/ Brian Large

English       Color   187’


Film from theater: Gran Teatre Liceu

Production from the theater for its later distribution in DVD. 

Opus Arte

Bertrand de Billy

Calixto Bieito/ Toni Bargalló

Italian      Color       156’


Film from theater: Teatro Real

Production from Teatro Real for TV1 television.

Opus Arte

Víctor Pablo Pérez

Lluis Pasqual/ Robin Lough

Italian   Color  208’


Telecast from studio for television.

Production of the Salzburg Festival for television. Film recorded from a studio in Vienna.

DECCA Music Group Limited

Daniel Harding

Martin Kusej/ Karina Fibich

Italian    Color   180’


Film from theater: Deneder Landse Opera

Production from the theater for a Dutch television.

Opus Arte

Ingo Metzmacher

Jossi Wieler/Misjel Vermeiren

Italian    Color   179,33’


Film in theater: Baden-Baden

Production of the Innsbrucker Festival for its commercialization in DVD.

SWR/ Arte

René Jacobs

Vincent Lemaire/ Georg Wübbolt

Italian   Color   172’


Film from theater: Royal Opera House

Production from the theater for its commercialization in DVD.

Opus Arte

Charles Mackerras

Francesca Zambello/ Robin Lough

Italian   Color   202’


Telecast from studio for television. Filmed without public

Production of the Salzburg Festival for television. Film recorded from Vienna’s theater.

Unitel Classica

Nikolaus Narnoncourt

Brian Large

Italian    Color   177’


Film from theater within the  Glyndebourne Festival

Production of the Glydebourne Festival for BBC television. Filmed from the theater in Munich

EMI Classics

Vladimir Jurowski

Jonathan Kent/ Peter Maniura

Italiano    Color   194’


Film from theater: Sydney Opera House

Production from the theater for commercialization in DVD. 

Opera Australia

Mark Wigglesworth

Göran Järvefelt/
Cameron Kirkpatrick

Italian  Color   176’


Film from theater: Champs Elysees de Paris

Live record from the theater for the digital television Mezzo. 


 Jérémie Rhorer

François Roussillon 


*Note: the sample was selected according to the year of production of the original performance, not the date of the DVD edition analyzed.

Source: authors' own creation.

To carry out the analysis, we have selected a part of the performance considered typically narrative, like the end of the first act. In our opinion, this fragment constitutes a theatrical frame comprised by dramatic actions and characters characteristic of a cinematographic narrative development: in a party at Don Giovanni’s Palace, a character trying to abuse the maid Zerlina before the commotion and surprise of guests. When discovered, Don Giovanni blames Leporello and escapes. The scene presents elements that favor mediatizing in an audiovisual platform: agility in the sequence of dramatic actions; presentation of a narrative conflict and its resolution; intervention of all main characters (Will, 2011; Villanueva, 2014: 320).

2.2. Methodological procedure

The method used in our research was content analysis. The three main categories that help us analyze the performances from an audiovisual language perspective are the type of recording process, type of camera shots used and the type of editing. Considering this categorization, initially we elaborated, in a deductive manner, a wide list of variables, from the existing bibliography. In a second moment, and thanks to a first view of all films, which worked as pretest, we shortened that list and redefined control questions so that they had a binary (yes/no; it is the case, for example, of items 13 and 14 of table 3) or quantitative answer (it is the case, for example, of items 29 and 31). Table 3 includes the 41 variables that have finally structured our analysis.

Table 3: List of studied variables


  1. If record is multi-camera
  2. Number of cameras
  3. Use of front camera shots
  4. Number of front camera shots
  5. Left side camera shots
  6. Number of left side camera shots
  7. Right side camera shots
  8. Number of right side camera shots
  9. Use of another type of camera angle
  10. Number of camera shots from other angles
  11. Number of high-angle shots
  12. Number of low-angle shots
  13. Narrative intention in high-angle shots
  14. Narrative intention in low-angle shots
  15. Predominance of full and group shots
  16. Predominance of long and medium shots
  17. Relation shot- reverse shots: full and group shots
  18. Shot- reverse shots balance: medium and long shots
  19. Mixed shot-reverse shots balance
  20. Incorporate close-ups
  21. Number of close-ups


  1. Type of close-up (detail and reaction shot)
  2. Type of close-up (protagonist singers)
  3. Scene opening with extreme full shot
  4. Scene closure with extreme full shot
  5. Scene closure fade to black
  6. Scene closure faded to the non-diegetic space of theater
  7. Predominance of motion camera shots
  8. Number of motion camera shots
  9. Type of motion: zooms in
  10. Type of motion: zooms out
  11. Type of motion: vertical tilt
  12. Type of motion: left and right pans
  13. Type of motion: travellings and/ or crane shots
  14. Number of camera shots in imperfect motion with air
  15. Predominance of classic cut editing
  16. Predominance of alternative editing (dissolve or continuity)
  17. Use of transitions: continuity (amount)
  18. Use of transitions: faded (amount)
  19. Use of non-diegetic frames (amount)
  20. Amount of non-diegetic frames

Source: authors' own creation

We completed this control of 41 variables in 29 films using a more interpretative analysis task, so to avoid losing the big picture, needed when it comes to evaluating a musical adaptation as a whole.

All this work of analysis was accompanied by a vast bibliographic and hemerographic review about the audiovisual production of Don Giovanni, as well as the review of public documents that film producers provided.

3.   Research results

3.1. Results about the type of recording process

3.1.a. Multi-camera system: filming with theatrical perspective

One of the most significative results of the research refers to the degree of theatricality of films. We talk about theatricality in filmed operas when the performative space is built therein by prioritizing and imitating the frontal view typical from the representation in operatic theaters, but not the 360 degree depth of field, belonging to cinematographic narrations.  We could confirm that in 100% of sample (29 films belonging to two centuries) the performative space is built thanks to the use of a multi-camera system, usually comprised by equipment between 3 and 6 devices placed in a fix manner in the lateral areas and in the front part of the theater or the film set (studio or decoration expressly built for the film)

A 94% of films position cameras in such a way that they do not cross the axis delimited by the stage itself; therefore prioritizing a frontal view of the performance. Our analysis confirms that this frontality, typical from live performing arts, is built thanks to the mixture of three types of perspective: general front view, which offers a view of the totality of the performance, and two open lateral positions, one captured from the left side of the performance and another one from the right. These lateral positions tend to be used to make the following of the choreographed movements on stage easier, or to promote slight zoom-in of camera towards the narrative action. 37% of sample incorporates, even though only sporadically, a type of perspective different from this multi-camera frontal construction, such as, for instance, a camera located punctually inside the stage—from the left lateral— which is observed in the Viennese production of the Salzburg Festival on 2006.

Even though these are performances filmed in an audiovisual format with the purpose of being commercialized as musical films, it is surprising that even in the XXI century the productions are characterized for not trespassing the limits of the axis marked physically by the theater’s stage. Even though is true that the theatrical perspective avoids the apparition of non-diegetic elements in the film [4] which may interfere in the creation of a credible narrative universe, such as the public attending to the original performance or the out of field of the theater’s hall itself. But, most of all, the style of theatrical and multi-camera film seems willing to imitate the view of the public attending live. The amount of equipment used in the film and the position of cameras make the audiovisual language start from the frontality to achieve a result closer to the transparent and documentary style, in such a way that the audiovisual viewer, from his home, can relive the experience of the visual appreciation in the theater. Only 6% of sample (two cases) break this front construction in relation to the filmed performance. These are two films recorded in television studies, where there is a camera positioning according to filming criteria typical from a set, thought to reproduce the narrative universe with a greater depth of field. Both films belong to the XX century: the studio version of Don Giovanni, produced in the year 90 by Peter Sellars  —a performance we will quote again below, because we consider it is an exceptional case from the artistic perspective— and the telecast for the Italian television RAI of the year 1960.

3.1.b. Position and framing of cameras: absence of narrative intention

The analysis of the 29 films reveals a lack of narrative purpose in the framing and the type of angles used by cameras, especially in the productions corresponding to XXI century. In this paper, we understand the narrative intention as the endowment of a purpose to elements of the audiovisual language, such as the variables of framing and camera angle, which helps building the story of Don Giovanni [5]. Like we pointed out in the previous section, 100% of sample potentiates the theatrical frontality with the position of the camera; now we also observe that the angles of said cameras are neutral from the narrative perspective. Most part of framings used to build the dramatic action of the scene are aligned frontally with the stage and at the level of the viewer’s glance. Therefore, a possible enlarging or shrinking of characters is eliminated from the psychological perspective. 72% of films punctually incorporate slight angles of high-angle camera shots (aligned below the viewer’s glance) and only 48% of sample use low-angle shots (aligned above the viewer’s glance). On graphic 1 we can see the use of camera shots in both centuries.

Graphic 1: presence of high angle and low angle shots in the XX and XXI centurie


Note: Sum is not 100 because there are cases with several criteria.

Source: authors' own creation.

However, what our research confirmed is that the use of camera angles, especially in those productions filmed from theaters, does not respond to esthetic or semiotic issues, but instead it is linked to a criteria of spatial positioning of the camera in the theater: in many examples it is observed how the incorporation of high and low angles respond to positioning the filming equipment in places where they do not bother viewers attending the live production; that is, it is limited by the technical and structural limitations of each space. In some examples we even observe that the camera is camouflaged within the theater decoration as if it were another part of its furniture. In one of the shots in the production of the year 1961 from Berlin’s Deustche Oper, where a circle is drawn in a dark frame from which the action can be seen, what means in such a way that it is understood the camera filming the representation was hidden in the decoration.

Graphic 2: technical justification —non narrative— of the non-frontal camera angle


Source: authors' own creation  

Considering that the opera constitutes an art of arts which is essentially narrative where the fiction can be built in the same way as in a film or a television series (Citron, 2000), in the creation of filmed operas, like in any other audiovisual fiction, camera angles understood as semantic tool could be a good element of language to build and portray characters psychologically. Therefore, it would be possible to associate connotative meaning to the different roles, according to the magnification or reduction of narrative figures. As positive exceptions doing this, we have the abovementioned case of Sellars’ Don Giovanni. In this version we observe the use of high and low angles, mainly to foresee the turn of dramatic actions and mark who is victim and who is executioner in the story. Nevertheless,  except for this version and some other few examples, 86.2 % of the sample doesn’t convey a narrative or symbolic meaning to the camera angle used, as shown on graphic 2. Hence, films follow a criteria of mere technical limitation: they use high and low angle camera shots if only, due to space issues, it has not been possible to position the camera in a frontal angle.

3.2. Results about the type of camera shots used

3.2.a. Static shots: towards the elimination of extreme long shots

In the study we also considered the size of camera shots as analysis variable when it comes to adapt the opera to an audiovisual language. This variable references the amount of narrative information from the total of the represented dramatic action that the different camera shots gather. From the artistic perspective, this criterion influences in the essential elements of story building, such as the aesthetic tone, the relationship and perspective stablished between characters, actions and the viewer, as well as the focus from which the dramatic action is told.

Our study contrasts that 83% of films built their discourses using the extreme long shot. In most of them, the extreme long shot (or master shot) constitutes the starting point used to build narrative frames, expose the musical action or show in a panoramic manner the whole scene in the group passages typical from the end of operatic acts, where several singers participate. Likewise, 89% of performances start the scene with this kind of shot and 95% end up going back to it, to close the first act in general.  Many productions trace a parallelism between the use of this type of camera shots and the dramatic or musical density that occurs in the scene: they use it to locate the spatial context of the representation, as well as to outstand the plural character typical from chorus passages.

The use of the extreme long shot is logical in the documentary style filmed operas have acquired for decades, because it avoids zooming in the eye of the camera to the different parts of the action and, therefore, impedes the subjectivation of the story according to the maker’s criterion. Once more, it is about an audiovisual element that, used in almost a permanent manner, neutralizes the possibility to grant a narrative intention to the language used, characteristic of the new artistic platform.

To emphasize more dramatic and action sequence moments, 39% of films use character’s group shots and, to a lesser extent, full and medium shots. This triple typology of camera shots shows the reaction of characters in a clearer manner, as well as specific details of the story considered significant. The still minoritarian use of medium close-ups and close-ups is interesting. 44% of sample use, and only in an anecdotic manner, close-up medium shots over the face of characters. Almost in all occasions, these medium shots play the role of close-ups, because they are used to nuance some specific action or reaction, not from the main characters, but secondary characters or walk-on actors.

An interesting data is that, with the exception of the Sellars version and punctual details shown by others, in the films of the XX century we didn’t find close-ups of main characters or the relevant dramatic actions. This result can be related with the discussion regarding formal aspects specified by theoretical studies of the XX century focused on the filming of bel canto (Atkinson, 2006: 95-108; Tambling, 1987). In none of the scenes there is the use of a detail camera shot that enables enjoying the interpretation of the singer: there is a bet for a prudent zoom in of the camera to the divo so that audiovisual viewers do not feel uncomfortable with the excessive body language the lyric singing requires.

As graphic 3 shows, in the XXI century, the audiovisual trend is to abandon the reference of the extreme long shot and opting for more unitarian editings from the aesthetic perspective: there is a bet for a greater homogeneity of size among shots and a lesser shift between them. There is also a greater preponderance to the use of full and medium camera shots of characters as well as the use of group shots. 64% of performances have these kind of shots, which respond to the need to provoke a greater approach of the viewer to the dramatic action: help showing dramatic actions in a more concrete and defined manner and, therefore, more audiovisual, because it allows to express accurately, the internal movement of the scene, as well as the reactions and intentions of characters, even though they do not sing.

Graphic 3: predominance of the size of camera shots per centuries


Note: Sum is not 100 because there are cases with several criteria.

Source: authors' own creation.

Regarding the use of close-ups, significative changes or trends are not noticed in the XXI century. The most recent performances still respect the prudent approach to characters, so to avoid being rude with the audiovisual viewer with an excessive detail that averts his attention, even though it is true that some of the films have used these camera shots to highlight the potential psychological value of main roles (Will, 2011: 44-45).

3.2.b. Camera shots in motion: absence of dynamism and narrative intention

We must emphasize in one of the most significant research results, referred to the motion of camera shots and the subsequent effect they cause over audiovisual perception. According to Richard Will (2011: 32-60), motion camera shots in many Don Giovanni films, imitate the organic and live feeling of many formats that current media use to broadcast media events such as football games, political public meetings or live concerts. Besides, said mobility enables the viewer to experience a dynamic and continuous feeling in the act of audiovisual appreciation, it makes the hypermediation of contents easier and, in the end, it enables a better immersion in the performance (Will, 2011). For all these reasons, we have stopped to investigate to what extent these musical films support themselves in the camera shot motion to agilize a long lasting audiovisual content, like a filmed opera.

We have performed the analysis starting from a distinction between the types of camera movements: motion of a camera shot caused by the movement of the camera over its own axis (zooms, horizontal pans, tilts, circular movements…) and the movement of the axis and the subsequent change in visual perspective (travellings, cranes, dollys, steadycam, or hand-held camera, among some examples …). Traditionally, the first type of movements cause a more static feeling and is used to obtain a better focal monitoring of the shot action, with the exception of zoom, to which a symbolic meaning was granted and it is considered one of the main movements that focus the attention of the viewer and announce storyline actions (Citron, 2005; Will, 2011). The second type in which movement is caused by the shifting of the camera axis produces in the recipient a more dynamic feeling that the first one, because it helps generating a greater narrative tension and favors the continuity between camera shots.

From the artistic perspective, the internal movement of camera shots does not constitute a sufficiently exploited tool by the operatic audiovisual exercise. This fact confirms the trend to use a rather static language: in 72% of cases there is predominance of a narrative construction from static camera shots. In the XX century, 28% of productions prioritized camera shots in motion. The data reduces in the XXI century, where only 18% of the sample uses camera shots in motion in a recurrent manner: instead of agilizing the audiovisual story, the trend in our century is to keep building the discourse from a static image, closer to the language of the theater than the language of media.

As can be confirmed on graphic 4, the main movements found, both in the performances of the XX century as well as the XXI century, are those in which the camera moves on its own axis: horizontal pans following the character, specific vertical tilts, as well as zooming in and out. In 100% of occasions, the horizontal pan is used on medium and group shots, thus it is helpful to better target the focus on the internal action of the scene. Likewise, we have only found the association of a narrative meaning to the specific zoom in movement: the slow and progressive zoom in on the main character of Don Giovanni is expressly used in many performances when he is unmasked in front of all his party’s guests. The use of zoom out responds to a mostly technical reason, usually to exit a specific action and return to the tutti of the scene, in order to recover the general context of the scenography, or used in a more accelerated manner, to indicate a change of focus in the storyline, as happens in the Herbert Von Karajan version of the year 1987.

Graphic 4: main camera movements found in the sample.


Note: Sum is not 100 because there are cases with several criteria.

Source: authors' own creation.

Although the audiovisual technique and its mastering have evolved noticeably, from the semiotic perspective we can say that most part of representations use camera movements according to non-interventionist criteria and closer to technical correction than a stylistic intention. The performances showing a minimum narrative intention, usually do it in very specific moments. We highlight the Viennese version of the year 2006, where a very marked zoom out is done from Zerlina’s face to the general frame, after being forced by Don Giovanni; or the Baden Baden version of 2008, where a very high angle zoom in shot over the face of the protagonist predicts the tragical future of the story.

Moreover, many movements are perfectly predictable, since the live technique causes that the initial shots of the film open with an unproportionate camera shot —commonly leaving more air than usual in the superior part of the shot— so to correct in a simultaneous manner the monitoring of action and the camera movement. Many of these camera shots show a scarcely attractive aesthetic, until they reach the desired composition from an audiovisual perspective. 56% of cases of XX century show unproportioned camera shots in their internal composition, with more air above than normal. In the XXI century, thanks to the technological progress, this percentage reduces to 27%.

Regarding  the use of camera shots in motion, produced by the shifting of the camera, it is interesting how from the total of the sample, only 6.9% uses camera movements where there is a movement of the axis itself besides the head’s. That is, there are barely films where alternatives to the static position of the camera are used, either in the form of travellings, cranes or dollys, for example. The absence of these kinds of filming practices can be related to the slow technification that, up to the XXI century, the opera theaters experimented, where it wasn’t allowed to include complex filming equipment, sophisticated and bulky —like cranes or steering wheel cameras— to avoid interfering in the view of the audience present in the live performance (D`Agostino, 2012).

Another significant data must be pointed out: there is not a single production where the hand-held camera or steadycam is incorporated, and as a consequence, either the subjective meaning and the visual instability effect caused by its use. In the XX century, there outstand the possibilities that the set granted to telecast for television which were  fashionable in the decade of 60’s. Among them, there is the Italian production for the RAI chain of the year 1960, where the director Giacomo Vaccari used many angles and steering wheel positions of the camera that granted the film with a marked narrative character and favored the immersion in the operatic story, thanks to a selection of camera shots based on the possibilities of the television set. In the XXI century, these techniques have been lost completely. Only the great theaters, especially the Metropolitan Opera House of New York, incorporate in its operatic films —of Don Giovanni and many other titles— movements produced by cranes to emphasize the grandness of long shots [6].

3.3. Results about the type of audiovisual editing

3.3.a. Number of camera shots: not associated with a greater audiovisual dynamism

The use of a greater amount of camera shots to build the narrative action achieves favoring a less static appreciation of the story and, therefore, more adequate from an audiovisual point of view. In the last years, the number of visual cuts has been studied in relation to elements such as the editing pace, the dynamism of the scene, and the capacity of this practice to influence in the temporary conception of Don Giovanni performance, in which artistic interpretations, the time urgency has been a recurrent element (Senici, 2009; Will, 2011). Thus, this is why our study also intended to confirm whether a greater amount of camera shots used in the construction of the discourse, contributed with a greater audiovisual dynamism in Don Giovanni’s case.

The analysis of the 29 performances indicates that the number of camera shots used in editing is highly unsteady: from the version of the year 1980 of Gran Teatre del Liceu, where only 18 camera shots were used to represent the complete musical sequence, up to Peter Sellars’ performance in his version of the year 1990, where 175 visual camera shots were used, we found very variable numbers, as shown on graphic 5.

Graphic 5: number of camera shots used at the end of the first act


Source: authors' own creation

The contrast generated by shifts of camera shots and perspective produces less staticism and potentiates a more natural appreciation of the represented performance from the audiovisual perspective. The audiovisual cases where a greater number of camera shots and perspectives have been used when building the message, should have acquired a form that naturally favors the dynamism in the story. However, through our analysis we have confirmed that a planning based exclusively in the amount criteria does not ensure a greater dynamism, because it can also convey the feeling of a greater fragmentation of the discourse and, consequently, cause a certain perception of lack of structure of the artistic performance.

After analyzing the sample we can conclude that in order to achieve a more accelerated editing, besides using a higher number of camera shots and visual cuts, the concurrence of other factors is also necessary, such as the proportion between the size of successive camera shots, or submitting the camera shot changes to narrative, scenic or, otherwise, musical issues. Considering the correlation of these other criteria with the amount of camera shots, we confirm how some performances are perceived in a more dynamic and narrative manner than others that included a significantly higher number of camera shots in the construction of the discourse. A good exercise is to compare the version produced by the chain RAI in the year 1960, filmed on studio, and the filming carried out in Salzburg of  Herbert Von Karajan’s version in the year 1987. The first one built the final scene of the first act using 40 camera shots. The second one used 128 camera shots. However, the narrative perception of the second performance —the most fragmented one— is much more static than the first one, due to the lack of incorporation of other elements of the audiovisual language that grant time sense to the story, such as the organization of camera shots based on narrative or musical intentions, the internal movement of camera shots or the construction in depth of field of the scenography itself.

On graphic 5 we can observe how in the group of performances corresponding to the XXI century the number of camera shots used was more homogeneous and closer to the average of the total of sample (80 camera shots) compared to those of the XX century group. In all the representations of the last decade we start to notice the incorporation of other semantic criteria —usually an editing pace marked by the internal action of scenography— which justify the use of a specific, non-randomized amount, of camera shots to tell the story.

It should be added that 76% of analyzed films, show a camera shot duration which is quite constant in the story, with an average of 8 seconds per camera shot, with the exception of small sections which are faster, synchronized with changes of narrative or musical character in the scene. For instance, 5 of the performances clearly mark, through an acceleration of the editing pace, the moment when Zerlina screams outside of frame, due to the trap set up by Don Giovanni. Only two of the versions (the one corresponding to the year 1955 and Peter Sellars’ version) abruptly change the editing pace, when the lady is attacked, moving from using between 8 and 10 second per camera shot, to using between 2 and 3 seconds instead. Other three versions, all those belonging to the decade of the 90’s, accelerate editing, when the music is faster and, in general, present a more high-angle editing in the last number of musical group, before Don Giovanni escapes. They are the version of Claudio Abbado for television, of the year 1990, the representation made by the Met that same year, and the Venice version of 1996.

3.3.b. Camera shot cuts: predominance of a typical cut from the classical editing

Another one of the results related to the editing pace is the confirmation that in 96.6% of films, mainly a classical editing technique is used whereas there is transition between camera shots by cuts without effects [7]. Therefore, almost the totality of the sample prefers the clean cut, typical from the documentary style, that does not use more subjective techniques, characteristic of the audiovisual language, such as the continuity or fading between camera shots. These resources have been traditionally used in cinema and television with a less transparent and objective intention than the editing by shot cut. They favor the continuity of the story and grant narrative meaning compared to the classical editing, which is used in aesthetics considered more neutral (Marimón, 2014: 83).

Our analysis found only a single production that recurrently uses the continuity of camera shots in its editing. It is the version of Alexander Sander in Gran Teatre del Liceu, filmed in 1980. The justification of its use in this specific case could be linked to the need of agilizing the story, since intentionally this version solely uses 18 static, long duration camera shots, to tell the whole sequence (it is one of the performances that fewer camera shots uses in the cinematographic editing and in which there is a greater feeling of stagnation). Except for this case, in the remaining films the technique of camera shot change by continuity is barely used during the final scene. When it is used, in all cases in a sporadic manner, an elliptical function in the story is noticed, just like it happens in the version of the Cologne theater in the year 1991, where the end of the previous scene is connected to the opening of the last scenic frame before the act’s closure, to make the audiovisual viewer understand that there has been a time leap in the story. Something similar is confirmed in the act’s closure of the version of the Alla Scala Theater of Milan, in the year 1987, where the diegetic scene ends with the fading to a close-up shot of a non-narrative element: the face of the musical director. With this resource the viewer is reminded about his audiovisual condition, physically away from the theater since, besides narrative elements of the performance, the environmental circumstances where it happens are shown.

In the XXI century, 100% of sample eliminates from the audiovisual discourse any subjective editing effect between camera shots, which manifests a clear trend towards the retransmission of the media event according to a transparent style. In this same line, a significative detail must be pointed out: 67% of XX century films close the first act with a fade to black of the screen, before moving to the musical intermezzo or directly to the second act; by contrast, in the XXI century, only 18% of performances fade to black immediately after ending the first act. The way of closing the story of the past century, more aligned with a cinematographic immersion, has been replaced in this century by the closure over the image of the theater’s curtains where the representation takes place. This way, the spaces that strengthen the retransmission character of the event are underlined more and more before a more immersive and cinematographic story. Thus, from the totality of the XXI century cases, 82% show the non-diegetic space of the theater when curtains go down and display in the film, the reaction of the public in the hall.

4. Conclusions

In this research we intended to clarify how the opera films have been conceived during the XX and XXI centuries, and confirm whether the language of these films is more theatrical than audiovisual. Therefore, we performed an exhaustive contents analysis of the end of the first act of 29 audiovisual versions of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, guided by three main categories: type of recording process, type of camera shots used and type of audiovisual editing. Thanks to them, we have evaluated the more or less narrative use of typically audiovisual tools in the construction of the story, such as framings, number and typology of camera shots, or camera movements, among others.

Our study has confirmed that the creation of operatic films effectively have ended up identifying the respect to the original performance with the endowment of a non-intrusive form (that is, theatrical), since they use, without a semiotic intention and with scarce creative freedom, many audiovisual tools that would allow granting a greater narrative sense to films.

We could determine that the categories that condition the theatrical form of films the most (first objective of our analysis) are the type of recording process and the type of camera shots. The frontality of the scene makes a depth of field decoration impossible. The abuse of the extreme long shot eliminates any subjectivization of the story. The use of framings without any psychological intention neutralizes the strength of an argument such as Don Giovanni’s.

When analyzing how the set of these variables is used to try to adapt an opera to a platform and an audiovisual language, we conclude that its sole use does not guarantee the generation of a more audiovisual sense. However, a combined proposal of some of these variables, according to a narrative criteria, instead of distancing contents from its audiovisual platform, it would rather approach it, since it becomes more dynamic, natural and coherent, without jeopardizing the fidelity to the representation.In the XXI century (second objective of our study) we evidenced a certain effort for offering a more congruent audiovisual construction only in some of variables, like the number and size of camera shots. However, our study shows that the evolution in these two variables leads to a still inefficacious outcome, because they are not combined with other variables based on a sense creation criterion. On the other hand, we have seen that the current discursive trend of filmed operas bets, more and more, on the incorporation of resources that imitate a television technique of mere broadcast or transport of the original performance.

After the results of analysis of the XX and XXI centuries we suggest, to finalize, some forms through which variables, such as the ones we have studied to develop an authentic audiovisual operatic language, could be conjugated, without the need to use new resources and techniques. For instance, if camera movements were coordinated with the music tempo or with the narrative action, they would constitute important tools of construction of meaning, especially when the music pace imposed by the performance does not allow to accelerate editing using a greater number of camera shots. By granting a sense, either musical or narrative, camera movements would not only favor the dynamism of the image, but instead they would convey a greater narrative continuity. Only some exceptional cases, like the Metropolitan Opera House of New York, seem to have understood the relevance of the filmic movement in achieving that these long term performances could become more attractive and immersive. On the other hand, if in the audiovisual editing not only the multi-camera filming based on space, musical or scenic criteria is considered, but instead and mainly the dramatic criteria, the use of a more varied size of camera shots, the use of transitions with diegetic meaning, the non-randomized use of certain number, position and framing of camera shots would be justified. These combinations, and many others that could be done, would promote filmic adaptations more compliant with the characteristic language of audiovisual platforms.

*Funded research: this study has benefited from the post-doctorate funds destined to research projects sponsored by the Fulbright Commission of Cultural Exchange between Spain and United States, belonging to the convocation of 2017.

5. Notes

[1] The study about audiovisual intervention in artistic creation, managed by authors like Philipe Auslander at the end of the XX century, is focused in concepts like the separation between media and contents, the resulting audiovisual representation and its link with the original performance, or the existence of mediating technology as part of the original performance itself (Marriot, 2007: 41- 103; Esse, 2010: 89).

[2]The term Werktreue has been used in art and media theories to express the respect for the original performance in the processes of artistic reinterpretation. The concept was developed in the music discipline from the 50’s of the past century (Morris, 2010: 269- 275; Steichen, 2011: 443- 459).

[3] Don Giovanni occupies the tenth position in the Operabase list of the most represented operas around the world. Reviewed: www.operabase.com. Retrieved on October 27, 2016, of http://operabase.com/top.cgi?lang=en#opera.

[4] With the audiovisual expression non diegetic we refer to all those sound and image elements that are not part of Don Giovanni’s fiction.

[5] The term angulationis used in cinematographic theory to stablish the difference between the level of view’s shot -lens of camera- and the represented object. When a scene is filmed in a traditional manner, the optic axis of the camera —the imaginary line that joins the center of the frame with the center of the objective— tends to coincide with the straight line going from our point of view towards the horizon. This perspective is usually known as front angle.

[6] El Metropolitan Opera House (Met) seems to be developing a more daring narrative model. The theater uses constant shifting of the camera axis in its films to favor the dynamism and immersion into the performance, in the style of the great television and cinematographic productions of the time. All points to the fact that, as Jim Steichen (2012) states, the Met tries to express its own institutional dramaturgy, still conventional in forms, but more and more with a greater specifically audiovisual identity and adapted to the current mediatic appreciation.

[7] In the cinematographic editing, a cut is the name for the successive assembly of an image with another, without overlaps or fades. It is a simple juxtaposition of camera shots. Due to its clarity, fugacity and transparency, in this editing style is where raccord and continuity problems of a film are made more evident (Marimón, 2014: 83).

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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References

I Villanueva-Benito, I Lacasa-Mas (2017): “The use of audiovisual language in the expansion of performing arts outside theater: Don Giovanni’s case, by Mozart”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 72, pp. 1.238 to 1.260.
DOI: 10.4185/RLCS-2017-1217-67en

Article received on 6 August 2017. Accepted on 20 October.
Published on 27 October 2017.