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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni (highlights) - Dramma giocoso in two acts. K527 (1787)
Don Giovanni, Bo Skovhus (bar); Leporello, Renata Girolami (bass); Don Ottavio, Torsten Kerl (ten); Masetto, Boaz Daniel (bar); Donna Anna, Adrianne Pieczonka (sop); Donna Elvira, Regina Schörg (sop); Zerlina, Ildiko Raimondi (sop); Commendatore, Janusz Monarcha, (bass)
Hungarian Radio Chorus
Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia/Michael Halász
rec. Phoenix Studio, Budapest, 20–30 Nov 2000
Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte
First performed at the Nostic Theatre, Prague, 29 October 1787
NAXOS OPERA CLASSICS 8.557893 [75.28]

By 1785 Mozart, aged 29 had moved from Salzburg, via Munich to Vienna to enlarge his opportunities. His strengths as an opera composer were widely recognised and the genre remained central to his ambitions. In 1786 he commenced a collaboration with the poet Da Ponte that realised the immensely popular Le Nozze de Figaro for which he received 400 gulden and Da Ponte 200. Figaro was also a great success in Prague. During a visit to that city in January 1787, Mozart was commissioned to write an opera for production the following autumn for a fee of 100 gulden! He returned to Vienna and although Da Ponte was working on librettos for two other composers he agreed to set the verses of Don Giovanni. The opera was well received at its premiere and remained the most popular of Mozart’s operas during his lifetime and for a considerable period after his death.

For the Vienna production of the opera in 1788 there were problems. The tenor couldn’t sing his Act 2 aria (No. 21) Il Mio Tesore (CD tr. 17) and Mozart substituted the aria Dalla sua pace, better suited to his abilities at No.10 in Act 1 (tr. 12). The role of Elvira, sung in Vienna by a protégée of Salieri, demanded a scena for herself. Mozart added the accompanied recitative and aria Mi Tradi (tr. 18). Performance custom in the opera house, and on record, has varied, with some unhappy attempts to combine the two versions. The recording from which these highlights are taken (see review) uses the Prague version with the major additions from Vienna added as an appendix. In this collection of highlights these additions are placed in the position they would be found in a combined version as with the two tenor arias referred to and Elvira’s aria.

The conductor of this set is Michael Halász. He has been resident at the Vienna State Opera since 1991 and already has widely, and justifiably, acclaimed recordings of Fidelio and Die Zauberflöte for Naxos. With a small orchestra he conducts a well-paced performance with plenty of rhythmic vitality whilst also allowing his singers space for characterisation and phrasing. The November 2000 recording is well set in a natural airy ambience with a good balance between orchestra and voices.

The soloists, many with Vienna State Opera connections, are well matched for quality and the men clearly vocally differentiated for character. In his second recording of the Don, Bo Skovhus is not quite as mellifluous as he was for Mackerras in his1996 performance (Telarc). However, his clear diction and ability to interact with colleagues is a clear advantage. His voice is easily differentiated from Renato Girolami as Leporello. Girolami, a native Italian, whilst not having the beauty of tone of his master, is the master with the nuances of the words as is heard in his catalogue aria (tr. 5). Boaz Daniel has already sung the Don at the Vienna Volksoper and as Masetto, his steady even and well covered tone is welcome (tr. 7). The young German tenor Torsten Kerl, with a keen edge to his voice is no wimpish Ottavio although his passaggio could be smoother. He evinces no difficulty with the tessitura in his two arias (trs. 12 and 17).

All the women sing well, although greater differentiation of voice colour would have been welcome. The Anna of Adrianne Pieczonka - a Glyndebourne Elvira in 1995 - has no trouble with her high lying part (tr. 11). Regina Schorg is a lightish Elvira with good diction; her Mi Tradi (tr. 19) lies easily on my ear. The singer who brings a tear to my eye, by clear tone and elegant phrasing is the Zerlina of Ildiko Raimondi. Her Batti, batti is a delight (tr. 14) as is her interaction with Don Giovanni in La ci darem la mano (tr. 8).

The booklet has an excellent and very full track-related synopsis in English and German. It is a pity that the opportunity was not taken to update the artist profiles. If this had been done it would have allowed the purchaser to know something of the development of the careers of the young artists involved in this recording.

This selection of highlights from Don Giovanni is felicitous and generous and can be thoroughly recommended. Those with an interest in performing practice should also purchase the equally low-priced excerpts from Mackerras’s recording, recently issued on Telarc. There the conductor encourages the use of ornaments and appoggiaturas as would have been the practice in Mozart’s own time (see review).

Robert J Farr


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