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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni. Opera giocoso in 2 Acts

Don Giovanni, Ezio Pinza (bass); Leporello, Salvatore Baccaloni (bass); Don Ottavio, James Melton (ten); Masetto, Mack Harrell (bar); Donna Anna, Zinka Milanov (sop); Donna Elvira, Jarmilla Novotna (sop); Zerlina, Bidú Sayão (sop); Commendatore; Norman Cordon (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. New York/Paul Breisach
Recorded live broadcast performance of 3rd April 1943, with interpolations
‘Immortal Performance Series’

GUILD GHCD 2236/7 [2 CDs: 77.04+79.41]

This issue differs from the 1942 recording, on Naxos Historical, in two major respects. Firstly there is the presence of Baccaloni as Leporello, and of Milanov, in her only recorded broadcast of a Mozart opera, as Donna Anna. Baccaloni, born 1900, sang at the ‘Met’ from 1940 until 1962 and was widely considered the foremost buffo of the period. From reports it certainly seems that he was a superb actor whose interaction with his master, the suave and vocally refulgent Giovanni of Pinza, was legendary. That is as maybe, but it is not wholly conveyed on an audio CD particularly when the singer is in poor voice; indeed his Catalogue Aria’ (CD1 tr.6) is very poorly rendered and his tone is thin elsewhere. As to Milanov’s Anna, it is vocally formidable but in the wrong manner. I cannot imagine this woman allowing the most violent rapist to violate her. What’s more, I reckon she would not have let her father fight the Don but would have sorted the matter herself with pistol or sword as appropriate; try her ‘Ma qual mai soffre’ (CD1 tr.3). The other major differences with the 1942 recording concern the Don Ottavio of James Melton and the conducting of Paul Breisach who, put simply, is no match for Bruno Walter on the rival issue. Melton is adequate rather than inspiring as Ottavio, with some gracious phrasing in his arias (CD1 tr.8 and CD2 tr10) and with enough metal in the lower voice not to sound too much of a wimp.

Of the other singers in the cast they are common with the 1942 performance. I particularly enjoy the Zerlina and her vocal interplay with the Giovanni; the tall Don and the tiny Bidú Sayão. Both have appealing stage presence as well as being vocally secure. They would have been highlights of the stage performance and this is reflected in the density of the applause they get. Like the complementary ‘Figaro’ from Guild, applause frequently disturbs the dramatic flow. As to the interpolations, Richard Caniell suggests that major problems had to be overcome before this broadcast could be released, with the source discs representing the ‘Supper Scene’ in the penultimate portion of Act 2 being missing and likewise 2 minutes 30 seconds at the start of the Epilogue. Rather than use the 1942 recording, and have Pinza singing with Kipnis as Leporello, Guild has used the 1944 Szell recording. To overcome the missing two plus minutes and get a reasonably seamless transition Caniell has used a 1936 Glyndebourne with Steber replacing Novotna. If that’s not enough, defects on the source discs has also meant further substitution, in the Act 2 scene between Giovanni, Masetto and Zerlina, using the 1942 broadcast. If you find such artistic licence acceptable, then the overall sound of the performance is subtly different, the broadcast originating from Chicago rather than the Met itself.

This issue is only really for those who want a record of Pinza and Baccaloni in their renowned vocal interplay as master and servant and also to hear how the great spinto Zinka Milanov tackled Mozart. For me the 1942 performance under Bruno Walter will remain first preference from this source.

Robert J Farr

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