MOZART Don Giovanni (Rhorer)
Jérémie Rhorer and his lively period forces won plaudits in these pages and elsewhere for their Paris recordings of Die Entführung (9/16) and La clemenza di Tito (4/17). This new Don Giovanni provoked more mixed feelings, and not just because the period-instrument competition – notably Gardiner (Archiv, 8/95) and Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi, A/07) – is that much more formidable. Using a conflation of the Prague and Vienna versions – which means, inter alia, both Don Ottavio arias and the Zerlina-Leporello bondage duet – Rhorer conducts a (predominantly) up-tempo, lean-textured Don, one that stresses the opera’s uniquely manic, driven quality. With brisk, naturally paced recitatives, the performance generates an exciting theatrical charge, though some of the speeds border on the frenetic, and transitions in the two finales can be blunt, as in the disconcerting forward jolt when Elvira announces her future career plans in the closing sextet. And while live recording has its obvious advantages, there are inevitable stage creaks and clatters – more distracting than in Rhorer’s other Mozart recordings – plus varying sound perspectives, often at the expense of orchestral impact.
Rhorer’s trump cards are his Giovanni and Leporello, a mutually dependent master-servant relationship that bristles with sharp-witted italianità. Both act brilliantly with the voice and dispatch their patter without compromising vocal quality. Like the lighter-toned Johannes Weisser in the Jacobs recording, Jean-Sébastien Bou is more upmarket Jack the lad than demonically driven anti-hero: caddish, sardonic, yet capable of fining his powerful baritone to a honeyed suavity in ‘Là ci darem la mano’ – though his serenade is hampered by an uncharacteristically plodding tempo. With a dash more bass in his baritone, Robert Gleadow’s resourceful, garlicky Leporello is well contrasted vocally with Giovanni. Gleadow sings with all the comic flair one could wish, yet musters an aristocratic elegance as he apes his master in the catalogue aria.
The Don’s past conquests and non-conquests are more problematic. Best is the Greek soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu, whose Anna makes up in tenderness and vulnerability what she lacks in vocal grandeur (Olga Pasichnyk’s performance for Jacobs is in similar mould). If ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ stretches her to the limit and beyond, she leaves you in no doubt of Anna’s love for Ottavio both in a gracefully dispatched ‘Non mi dir’ and in the duet in the final sextet. You could never accuse Julie Boulianne of under-characterising the neurotically obsessive Elvira, torn between love, shame and indignation. She catches, too, Elvira’s new-found dignity and pathos in her Act 2 scena. Yet the role lies rather high for her mezzo, and her vibrato grows uncomfortably wide under pressure. Anna Grevelius, likewise a mezzo, has the requisite charm for Zerlina, though disappoints in a fluttery and ill-tuned ‘Vedrai carino’. Marc Scoffoni makes a sturdy, cussed Masetto, and Julien Behr’s forthright and mainly stylish singing ensures that Ottavio is no cipher in breeches. Both his arias deserve their applause. But the Commendatore, baritone rather than bass, fatally lacks baleful gravitas in the supper scene. Indeed, his voice is less imposing, certainly less firm, than Giovanni’s and Leporello’s. Which can never be right.