Mozart's Don GiovanniMozart's Don Giovanni

Gramophone Choice

Eberhard Waechter (bar) Don Giovanni Joan Sutherland (sop) Donna Anna Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (sop) Donna Elvira Graziella Sciutti (sop) Zerlina Luigi Alva (ten) Don Ottavio Giuseppe Taddei (bar) Leporello Piero Cappuccilli (bar) Masetto Gottlob Frick (bass) Commendatore Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini

EMI Great Recordings of the Century 567869-2 (162' · ADD · T/t). Recorded 1959. Buy from Amazon

Although this set is over 50 years old, none of its successors is as skilled in capturing the piece’s drama so unerringly. It has always been most recommendable and Giulini captures all the work’s most dramatic characteristics, faithfully supported by the superb Philharmonia forces of that time. At this stage of Giulini’s career, he was a direct, lithe conductor, alert to every turn in the story, and he projects the nervous tension of the piece ideally while never forcing the pace, as can so easily happen. Then he had one of the most apt casts ever assembled for the piece. Waechter’s Giovanni combines the demonic with the seductive in just the right proportions; Taddei is a high-profile Leporello, who relishes the text and sings with lots of ‘face’. Elvira was always one of Schwarzkopf’s most successful roles: here she delivers it with tremendous intensity. Sutherland’s Anna isn’t quite so full of character but is magnificently sung. Alva is a graceful Ottavio. Sciutti’s charming Zerlina, Cappuccilli’s strong and Italianate Masetto and Frick’s granite Commendatore are all very much in the picture. The sound is so good, the set might have been recorded yesterday.

 

Additional Recommendations

Rodney Gilfry (bar) Don Giovanni Luba Orgonášová (sop) Donna Anna Charlotte Margiono (sop) Donna Elvira Eirian James (mez) Zerlina Christoph Prégardien (ten) Don Ottavio Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (bass) Leporello Julian Clarkson (bass) Masetto Andrea Silvestrelli (bass) Commendatore Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists / Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Archiv 445 870-2AH3 (178' · DDD · S/T/t) Recorded live 1994. Buy from Amazon

Gardiner’s set has a great deal to commend it. The recitative is sung with exemplary care over pacing so that it sounds as it should, like heightened and vivid conversation, often to electrifying effect. Ensembles, the Act 1 quartet particularly, are also treated conversationally, as if one were overhearing four people giving their opinions on a situation in the street. The orchestra, perfectly balanced with the singers in a very immediate acoustic, supports them, as it were ‘sings’ with them. That contrasts with, and complements, Gardiner’s expected ability to empathise with the demonic aspects of the score, as in Giovanni’s drinking song and the final moments of Act 1, which fairly bristle with rhythmic energy without ever becoming rushed. As a whole, tempi not only seem right on their own account but also, all-importantly, carry conviction in relation to each other. Where so many conductors today are given to rushing ‘Mi tradì’, Gardiner prefers a more meditative approach, which allows his soft-grained Elvira to make the most of the aria’s expressive possibilities. 

Rodney Gilfry’s Giovanni is lithe, ebullient, keen to exert his sexual prowess; an obvious charmer, at times surprisingly tender yet with the iron will only just below the surface. Suave and appealing, delivered in a real baritone timbre, his Giovanni is as accomplished as any on disc. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo was the discovery of these performances: this young bass is a lively foil to his master and on his own a real showman, as ‘Madamina’ indicates, a number all the better for a brisk speed. Orgoná≈ová once more reveals herself a paragon as regards steady tone and deft technique – there’s no need here to slow down for the coloratura at the end of ‘Non mi dir’ – and she brings to her recounting of the attempted seduction a real feeling of immediacy. As Anna, Margiono sometimes sounds a shade stretched technically but consoles us with the luminous, inward quality of her voice and her reading of the role, something innate that can’t be learnt. 

Nobody in their right senses is ever going to suggest that there’s one ideal version of Don Giovanni – the work has far too many facets for that – but for sheer theatrical élan, complemented by the live recording, Gardiner is among the best, particularly given a recording that’s wonderfully truthful and lifelike.

 

Johannes Weisser (bar) Don Giovanni Olga Pasichnyk (sop) Donna Anna Alexandrina Pendatchanska (sop) Donna Elvira Sunhae Im (sop) Zerlina Kenneth Tarver (ten) Don Ottavio Lorenzo Regazzo (bass) Leporello Nikolay Borchev (bass) Masetto Alessandro Guerzoni (bass) Commendatore Berlin RIAS Chamber Choir; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra / René Jacobs 

Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1964/6 (170' · DDD · S/T/t) Buy from Amazon

If Jacobs is hardly the first modern conductor to present the opera in its ‘original colours’, his Don Giovanni is among the liveliest and most enjoyable on offer. It is certainly one of the most brilliantly played. The Freiburg band, forwardly balanced, are eager, involved participants in the drama. Mozart’s wonderful woodwind commentaries are as pungent as you will hear, while rasping, minatory valveless brass and gunfire period timpani create a properly terrifying frisson in the Commendatore’s retribution scene.

Jacobs being Jacobs, there are controversial things here. Tempi can suddenly spurt forward or slow down, usually – as in the opening scene – with dramatically exciting results. Both finales hurtle forward with thrilling impetus. Elsewhere speeds can sound a shade frenetic: in the Act 1 Quartet, for instance, or in Zerlina’s two arias. As in Jacobs’s Figaro, the recitatives are done in a natural, conversational style, with fortepiano and cello adding their creative ‘commentaries’, like the instruments in the arias.

For Jacobs, Donna Elvira is the opera’s central female character. Accordingly, he casts Anna with the relatively light-toned Olga Pasichnyk, who sings ‘Non mi dir’ tenderly and gracefully, and sounds more sorrowful than vengeful in ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ – a more vulnerable and more likeable figure than usual. Conversely, Alexandrina Pendatchanska’s Elvira is as hysterically obsessive as any on disc, with a mingled desperation and tragic grandeur in her big Act 2 recitative: it’s an exciting performance, certainly, though her phrasing can be disconcertingly gusty.

Smooth legato is hardly a priority for Johannes Weisser either. His Giovanni is less the sinister, demonic anti-hero, more an over-sexed, heedless young bounder with a taste for danger and a penchant for cruelty. He is casually seductive with Sunhae Im’s coquettish, sweet-toned Zerlina, rapier-sharp in his exchanges with Leporello, where his youthful, tenorish timbre contrasts strongly with Lorenzo Regazzo’s bass-baritone. Regazzo’s is a charismatic performance, never descending to caricature; his lubricious relish in the Catalogue aria does not preclude a hint of elegance. The mellifluous-toned Kenneth Tarver makes a sympathetic, concerned Ottavio, the Masetto is aptly sullen, the Commendatore amply imposing. But few could deny the zest, sweep and sheer theatrical charge of this recording.

 

DVD / Blu-ray Recommendation

Gerald Finley (bar) Don Giovanni Anna Samuil (sop) Donna Anna Kate Royal (sop) Donna Elvira Anna Virovlansky (sop) Zerlina William Burden (ten) Don Ottavio Luca Pisaroni (bass-bar) Leporello Guido Loconsolo (bar) Masetto Brindley Sherratt (bass) Commendatore Glyndebourne Chorus; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Vladimir Jurowski 

Stage director Jonathan Kent 

Video director Peter Maniura 

EMI 072017-9 (3h 14' · NTSC · 16:9 · LPCM stereo & DTS 5.1 · 0 · S/N/s) Recorded live 2010. Buy from Amazon

Jonathan Kent sets what some people consider to be Mozart’s ‘problem opera’ in 1960, the world of La dolce vita, all scarves and dark glasses; but the location is Franco’s Spain (where the Fellini film was banned until after the monster’s death). In the context of his production Kent rarely puts a foot wrong.

There’s a geniality about his stage presence that makes Gerald Finley more suited to Figaro and Leporello than to the Count and Don Giovanni. But his assumption of Giovanni is completely convincing. He can be a vicious thug – no gentlemanly fencing for him: he smashes the Commendatore’s face with a brick – and of course he can turn on the charm. His most important relationship, as Finley puts it in one of the two bonus features, is with Leporello, each character both irritated by and dependent on the other. Finley’s embarrassed grins, as he tries to convince Donna Anna and Don Ottavio that Donna Elvira is mad, are a joy to behold; and his fear before the confrontation with the Commendatore in the supper scene is palpable. Finley sings as well as he acts, apart from an oddly unhoneyed Serenade.

Kent’s direction of the women is telling. Prim, middle-aged Ottavio doesn’t stand a chance against Anna’s obsession with her father. At the end, the besotted Elvira touches the corpse of Giovanni, who lies in the same position as the murdered Commendatore – a nice touch. But Kent is surely wrong to have Giovanni humping Zerlina against a wall before her rescue by Elvira, an important feature of the opera surely being Giovanni’s signal failure to seduce anyone at all.

Vladimir Jurowski chooses the Vienna version (the booklet synopsis follows the standard version!): so out goes ‘Il mio tesoro’, in comes the duet where Zerlina threatens Leporello and ties him up. The subtitles tend to the approximate. The singing is fine and the OAE play like angels.

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