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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Don Giovanni, K 527 (1787): highlights [76.38]
Bo Skovhus, Don Giovanni; Janusz Monarcha, Commendatore; Adrianne Pieczonka, Donna Anna; Torsten Kerl, Don Ottavio; Regina Schörg, Donna Elvira; Boaz Daniel, Masetto; Ilkiko Raimondi, Zerlina
David Aronson, harpsichord; György Eder, cello
Hungarian Radio Chorus
Nicolas Hesterházy Sinfonia/ Michael Halász
Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary, 30 November 2000.
DTS 5.1 Surround, and AC3 Dolby Digital 5.1 (44kHz, 24 bit) One side only.
Plot summary and performer biographies in English and Deutsch. No text.
AC3 track playable on DVD video players. Not playable on CD players.
Also available as a complete recording on NAXOS 8.660080-82, CD only.
NAXOS 5.110011 DVD Audio [76.38]


Comparison recordings:

Fischer-Dieskau, Stader, Fricsay, Berlin Opera [ADD] DGG 437 341-2

Siepi, Schwarzkopf, Furtwängler, Vienna PO [ADD live mono] Gala GL 100.602

‘Il dissoluto punito ossia Il Don Giovanni’ is on everyone’s shortlist for the prize of Greatest Opera Ever Written (at least in the ‘between 150 to 240 minutes long’ class). Starting with a traditional straight black-and-white morality tale, Da Ponte and Mozart worked at adding ambiguities and tempered every strong emotion with mitigating feelings. It emerged as a masterpiece study of the complex human emotions surrounding the ideas of sin, sex, and seduction. Even though he shows no trace of remorse, we see the Don as a heroic character and admire his courage even as he falls through the doors of Hell.

The excerpts chosen include the overture and opening number, and a little under half of the opera, including most of the famous arias.

The orchestra plays beautifully and the tempi are well chosen. Skovhus is a magnificent Don Giovanni and has evidently shaped his role through careful study of many other artists. He deserves comparison with the very best, including the great Fischer-Dieskau who is my all-time favourite in the role. His scream of terror and anguish as he falls into Hell is the most horrifying sound I’ve ever heard in opera! The rest of the cast are very good, but not up to the dramatic standard set by the lead, even though they sing very agreeably. These excerpts are taken from a complete recording, but appreciated as an assembly of bits and pieces, the artists err on the side of making beautiful sounds sacrificing drama as required. For instance, Adrianne Pieczonka’s Donna Anna is ever the wronged pure maiden, and brings no anger, spite, or complicated guilt reactions to her characterisation. Ilkiko Raimondi sings Zerlina beautifully and blends her voice well with Skovhus in their duet, but sounds too mature, too wise, for the role, and does not expresses innocence or insouciance, although absent the preceding recitative, we don’t know what she might have put into it. Janusz Monarcha as the Commendatore sings like a stone statue even before he becomes one. The other artists sing beautifully and everyone blends well in the ensemble numbers.

Even a brief sampling of the Furtwängler Salzburg Festival recording cited above will capture you with the force of its accumulating dramatic tension, making a strong contrast with this version.

Which brings us to the recording quality. Even if you own the Furtwängler version you may want to buy this one for the brilliant high resolution sound which is particularly welcome during the thick textures of the orchestrally accompanied ensembles. We have grown accustomed to scrappy high notes and intermodulation distortion in opera recordings, even on CD opera recordings, and it is a wonder and delight to hear ‘space’ around every voice at all times, to hear the artists’ exemplary brilliant high notes as purely recorded as they are purely sung.

To see how this disk would play in a DVD (video) player I put it in my new Sony DVD/SACD player which contains a 96kHz audio chip. There is also a firm notice in the booklet that it does not (sniff!) play DVD-Audio disks; one can almost perceive the curl of the lip in contempt. At once we see on the TV screen a showcard with the title of the track and a drawing from the set of the opera, and the Dolby stereo track begins to play. At a new selection, the drawing changes to one appropriate to the setting. Most buttons have no effect; pressing the TOP MENU button opens the audio set-up screen where one is offered the choice of Dolby 5.1 or DTS 5.1 surround. Naturally choose the DTS if your machine supports it, then back out of the menu and press enter to play. The perspective is unusually wide and deep. The sound is fully in the front speakers with ambient reverberant sounds in the rear speakers. Unfortunately at times the singers sound like they are engulfed in the set and some distance away, at other times they are obviously right at the footlights.

But to really appreciate this disk you will want to hear it on a DVD-Audio player for a further significant enhancement in the sound quality. For some odd reason my DVD-Audio player played tracks 10 through 15 as a single track and only advanced the counter at the beginning of track 16.

For a review of the complete performance from which these excerpts are taken, see review by Robert Farr

Paul Shoemaker

 



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