MOZART Don Giovanni (Solti, Live)
Considering that the London Philharmonic has been Glyndebourne’s resident orchestra since 1963, it’s surprising that Georg Solti never conducted the orchestra there given his long association with them, not least as principal conductor. Instead, his only appearances at Glyndebourne came in 1954 – with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – for nine performances of Don Giovanni, the fifth of which was taped, released here in Nimbus’s Prima Voce series.
There is, of course, plenty of zip from Solti in the pit – apart from the dance music at the Don’s party, which is a bit lumpen – and he drives the score along well, with beefy playing from the RPO. Solti opts for the usual conflation of Prague and Vienna versions, meaning we get both tenor arias for Don Ottavio, plus Donna Elvira’s ‘Mi tradì’, a bonus when the Elvira is the great Sena Jurinac, who is by far the best thing in this performance. She is pure class, singing majestically, her steely delivery coated with cream.
These performances got panned in Opera magazine, and it’s not difficult to hear why. The American bass-baritone James Pease is a testy Don Giovanni, sounding like an angry young man and not always on the note. His voice is essentially a fine one but he rattles through recitatives and dispatches a bullish Champagne aria. His serenade, frankly, would be unlikely to persuade you to venture down from your balcony. Benno Kusche’s brawny Leporello is no better, overexaggerating the comedy at the expense of his singing.
Margaret Harshaw offers plenty of heft as Donna Anna – the only non-Wagner role during the soprano part of her career. ‘Non mi dir’ suffers from blowsy tone, the ornamentation ungainly. Léopold Simoneau is a good Ottavio, displaying honeyed head voice in ‘Dalla sua pace’, but he pushes crudely in ‘Il mio tesoro’. Anny Schlemm turns Zerlina into a charmless shrew, which is perhaps all Thomas Hemsley’s petulant Masetto deserves.
The sound is a bit rough and ready, as you’d expect from a live recording in the 1950s, with some dips in volume and occasional fuzz, but perfectly acceptable. There are, however, huge balance issues in the supper scene: Leporello is right in your ear while the Don is dragged to hell far off in the distance.
The third disc is padded out with a selection of five concert arias (and Guglielmo’s ‘Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo’ from Così fan tutte) sung by the bass Italo Tajo (from a 1947 Cetra recording), which are done with a good deal of flair and a surprising lightness of touch. To be brutally honest, it contains the best singing in the set.