> Mozart - Don Giovanni [RH]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Don Giovanni, KV 527 (1787) [158.00]
Il dissoluto punito, ossia Don Giovanni: Dramma giocoso in due atti
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte
Don Giovanni: Werner van Mechelen (Baritone)
Leporello: Hubert Claessens (Bass)
Donna Anna: Elena Vink (Soprano)
Don Ottavio: Markus Schäfer (Tenor)
Zerlina: Nancy Argenta (Soprano)
Masetto: Nanco de Vries (Bass)
Donna Elvira: Christina Högman (Soprano)
Il Commendatore: Harry van der Kamp (Bass)
Collegium Compostellanum
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
Recorded 1995
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, KV 384 (1781/82) [132.00]
Singspiel in 3 Akten
Libretto: J.Gottlieb Stephanie jr.,
after "Belmonte und Konstanze" by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner
Belmonte: Paul Groves (Tenor)
Konstanza: Yelda Kodalli (Soprano)
Pedrillo: Lynton Atkinson (Tenor)
Blonde: Désirée Rancatore (Soprano)
Osmin: Peter Rose (Bass)
Bassa Selim: Oliver Tobias (Speaker)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
Recorded 1999
Mozart Edition Volume 18
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99732 [5 CDs: 63’04, 68’02, 21’25, 66’41, 65’27]


At first sight this is a curious coupling. Kuijken’s "Don Giovanni" is played on the original instruments of La Petite Bande and Mackerras’s "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" uses the modern instruments of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (though with the addition of natural horns). Add to this the fact that Mackerras has also recorded a well regarded "Don Giovanni" with the SCO and matters get stranger. That this box is labelled Mozart Edition No. 18 gives the clue. Brilliant have already issued other Mozart operas conducted by Kuijken (including "Cosi van tutte") in the current series and have also issued Mackerras’s performance of "Die Zauberflöte" (another performance with the SCO). Presumably the intention is to provide all of Kuijken’s performances of the Italian operas and use Mackerras for the Singspiels. But for the casual buyer, this box set remains something of a strange mixture, even though Mackerras’s recordings with the SCO have his usual successful mixture of period sensibility with modern instruments, the best of both worlds some might think. But what of the performances themselves?

From the first notes of the overture, Mackerras gives us a brilliant, dramatic reading of "Die Entführung aus dem Serail". Speeds are fast but not overly so and one is left in no doubt that this is a stage work. The attractive, fresh voiced cast deliver a brilliant ensemble production, without a seriously weak link.

Paul Groves as Belmonte makes a fine upstanding hero, though he does rather smudge his coloratura. Lynton Atkinson makes a sparky foil as Pedrillo, but his voice is not quite up to the heroics of ‘Frisch zum Kampfe’. Casting the opera with young voices, though is a risk. Paul Groves and Lynton Atkinson sound dangerously similar and their opening scenes with Osmin (Peter Rose) could easily sound like one long scene to a casual listener. Peter Rose’s performance, though somewhat soft-grained, is nicely non-caricatured, but I would like to know how effective he was in the low lying passages when performing live. After all, Mozart took advantage of the work’s genesis to expanded the role of Osmin to suit a distinguished basso profundo.

The opera’s long genesis (for political reasons) is one of its keys. Mozart made good use of the time to re-shape the opera to a more subtle form, taking advantage of his roster of singers. The role of Konstanze is one of the beneficiaries of this with the dramatic and technical challenge of the pair of arias ‘Traurigkeit’ followed immediately by ‘Marten aller Arten’. Rather ironically, Konstanze is sung by the Turkish soprano Yelda Kodalli. If, in ‘Traurigkeit’, she misses that final edge of expressiveness, she is fully equal to the rigours of ‘Marten aller Arten’. She has all the notes, though her voice does tend to go rather steely at the top, but she does manage to get beyond the simple technical difficulties of the coloratura and use it expressively. I would certainly like to hear more of her. She is complemented by Désirée Rancatore’s attractive Blonde. She sounds more mature than I would expect, but has an attractive warm tone, though at times I had doubts about her coloratura. You get the feeling that Yelda Kodalli and Désirée Rancatore could perhaps exchange roles, but in this case their voices are well differentiated.

But if the solo singing has the occasional fault, the ensemble numbers, of which this opera has a generous number, are a joy. Beautifully blended, responsive singing stylishly accompanied by the SCO, sheer teamwork.

The appearance of Oliver Tobias as Pasha Selim will come as no surprise to those listeners familiar with the Covent Garden production of the opera, but might surprise those who remember him from ‘The Stud’. He turns in a neat, quiet voiced performance as the Pasha. On the whole, spoken dialogue on recordings is a problem. If you miss it off entirely, it alters the balance of the work; actors rarely sound convincingly like the singers they are replacing and a spoken narration usually does not stand up to repeated listening. So it is to the recording team’s credit that they chose the trickiest option, having the dialogue spoken by the singers themselves. The result is acceptable, if a little stilted. You feel that the dramatic tension drops each time the music stops.

That the music retains such a dramatic impetus is no small thanks to Charles Mackerras who presides over the whole opera creating a beautifully shaped dramatic performance with nicely judged tempi.

A link between the two operas is provided by Caterina Cavalieri, Salieri’s mistress and the first Konstanze. She went on to sing Donna Elvira in the Vienna premiere of "Don Giovanni" and it was for her that Mozart wrote ‘Mi tradi’. But the link is weakened on this recording as they perform the shorter Prague version of the opera, without ‘Mi Tradi’ and ‘Dalla sua pace’. No bad thing in itself, but there is no mention of this in the booklet, which might cause some confusion. And the libretto includes the Viennese scenes as well, which makes it difficult to follow. The opera is still spread over 3 CDs with a rather eccentric side division, the final CD containing the Act II finale only, under 22 minutes of music.

The opera opens with a dramatic reading of the overture and throughout, La Petite Bande play very stylishly. I could wish for a greater sense of line from the strings, but the wind section provides some lovely moments throughout the opera. In writing "Don Giovanni" Mozart took advantage of the strength of the Prague wind section and La Petite Bande obviously enjoy the opportunities that Mozart gives them. The continuo is played by a harpsichord rather than a forte-piano. Kuijken might have had a good reason for doing this, but in the absence of any information in the notes all we can do is regret the lost opportunity.

After the overture dramatic tension drops when the singing starts. All the singers have a respectable discography, but many of them are new to me. Hubert Claessens provides a very sober sounding Leporello with little smile in the voice or much dramatic colour. The drama is still not well served when the other characters appear. Werner van Mechelen’s mature sounding and rather effortful Don Giovanni leaves one a little bewildered as to what the women see in him. I was definitely not seduced by his performance in ‘Là ci darem la mano’ (especially when compared to the neatly turned Zerlina of Nancy Argenta) and ‘Deh! vieni’ does not stand comparison to some of the major interpreters of the role. Elena Vink is a rather fluttery Donna Anna, and she does rather sound over parted. At her best in the quieter moments, she gives a beautifully delicately sung performance of ‘Non mi dir’. Christina Högman’s sings Donna Elvira robustly, making her sound rather plummy. Her voice has a very distinctive timbre so there is no danger of getting her confused with Donna Anna At the start of Act I she seems to be a little uncomfortable with the role’s tessitura. Christina Högman plays the role with remarkable venom, sometimes distorting notes for emphasis, but I wished that Elena Vink’s Donna Anna displayed half Christina Högman’s sense of strength and purpose (Christina Högman’s scream at the end of Act II is truly wonderful). Markus Schäfer as Don Ottavio rather goes to pieces under pressure and whilst listening to ‘Il mio tesoro’ I rather wished that they had given us the pure Vienna version, replacing ‘Il mio tesoro’ with the simpler ‘Dallua sua pace’. All the men's voices tend to spread under pressure and one loses any sense of line in their singing. Listening to the scenes shared by Don Giovanni, Leporello and Masetto (Nanco de Vries), one longs in vain for some focused, beautifully shaped singing. The contrast with the shapely accompaniment is sometimes striking. But when their voices are not under pressure, the cast give us some lovely singing and the delightful terzetto ‘Ah taci, ingiusto core’ shows Christina Högman, Hubert Claessens and Werner van Mechelen off to good advantage. An exception to these strictures is Harry van der Kamp who is an admirably focused and suitably impressive Commendatore. Thanks to the playing of "La Petite Bande", the Act 1 Finale does have its moments as does the opera’s finale. But the graveyard scene fatally lacks any sort of chill and this is a problem that carries over into the Statue’s final appearance.

The opera seems to have been recorded live, at least there is applause at the end of each act. There are some nice moments, but the whole feels rather pedestrian and undramatic, at times I did wonder whether Kuijken was very interested in the singers. With such a crowded market, there has got to be a good reason for buying a new "Don Giovanni" and I cannot really find a good enough reason for buying this one. Those looking of a super budget performance need look no further than the recent Naxos issue with Bo Skovhus in the title role and those with longer pockets have a wide range of choice. There are two significant recordings on period instruments. Arnold Östmann’s Drotningholm recording has just been reissued on just two mid-priced CDs with a distinguished cast that includes Bryn Terfel as Masetto. Roger Norrington’s recording is in a class of its own as, besides his usual interesting reassessment of speeds and tempo relationships, the 3 CD set (at mid-price) includes the full Vienna and Prague versions allowing the listener make their own choice.

The Mackerras "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" seems to be still available on Telarc as two mid-price CDs so I would advise anyone to buy these, unless you absolutely have to have Kuijken’s "Don Giovanni".

The Brilliant Box set lets itself down when it comes to the booklet. The full libretto for each opera is provided in the original language only with just an English summary. Though "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" is performed with dialogue this is neither printed in German nor in English, which leaves following the opera rather a problem. There is no information about which version of "Don Giovanni" is being performed and the libretto confusingly includes the unperformed material. The general standard of editing leaves something to be desired.

Robert Hugill

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