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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Don Giovanni (1787) Highlights
Overture; Act I: Introduzione: Notte e giorno faticar; Fuggi, crudele, fuggi; Ah, chi mi dice mai; Madamina, il catalogo è questo; La ci darem la mano; Or sai chi l’onore; Dalla sua pace; Finch’han dal vino; Batti, batti, o bel Masetto; Finale I: Da bravi, via, ballate … Ecco il birbo che t’ha offesa … Trema, trema, o scerllerato! Act II: Ah! Taci, ingiusto core; Deh, vieni alla finestra; Vedrai, carino; Il mio tesoro intanto; Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata; O statua gentilissima; Crudele! Ah no, mio bene! … Non mi dir, bell’idol mio; Finale II: Don giovanni, a cenar teco … Da qual tremore insolito
Bo Skovhus (baritone) – Don Giovanni; Alessandro Corbelli (baritone) – Leporello; Christine Brewer (soprano) – Donna Anna; Jerry Hadley (tenor) – Don Ottavio; Felicity Lott (soprano) – Donna Elvira; Nuccia Focile (soprano) – Zerlina; Umberto Chiummo (bass) – Il Commendatore/Masetto
Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, 31 July–11 August 1995
TELARC CD-80442 [77:23]

 

 

I have long since lost count on the number of Don Giovannis on record; there must be close to forty, DVDs not included. This scholarly and well-sung version must be counted among the top contenders.

A highlights disc doesn’t of course show the real merits or demerits of the complete recording, where sometimes the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. In this case the parts are good enough and anyone wanting most of the plums need look no further. A thumbnail review could have ended here but I am going to be a little more specific.

With very generous playing-time it has been possible to squeeze in almost all the arias and also some of the ensembles. The recording is spacey without being over-resonant. The balance between voices and orchestra is ideal, which is only to be expected from Telarc.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is one of the best ensembles in the world and having had a longstanding relationship with Sir Charles the result is glorious. He has an unerring feeling for what is the right tempo in each instance. He knows when to hold back and when to press forward. In his interesting notes on the music, Sir Charles ponders at some length upon the question of ornamentation and his decision to be quite restrictive: “appoggiaturas are used throughout by all singers, but ornamentation is simple and mainly restricted to the arias of Donna Anna and Don Ottavio.”

The overture is lively but with enough weight to stress the darker threads foreshadowing the downfall of the libertine. An interesting feature is that the roles of Masetto and Il Commendatore are doubled by the same singer, which also was the case in Mozart’s time. Fortepiano and cello are employed for the recitatives but in these highlights they are omitted. There are however some sound effects to emphasize the feeling of theatre: the duel between Il Commendatore and Don Giovanni in the first scene is almost over-realistic with swords crossing and a roar from Il Commendatore that sends shivers down one’s spine.

The singing is on an exalted level. Bo Skovhus has long been associated with Don Giovanni and is almost ideal. His voice has both a seductive mellifluousness and dramatic bite. The champagne aria is spirited, the serenade honeyed and he is formidable in the finale. His valet Leporello is well but a little anonymously sung by Alessandro Corbelli. It is good to hear a native Italian speaker in this role. His catalogue aria is elegant with fine nuances and none of the clowning that can be tiring on repeated hearing. Umberto Chiummo is a large-voiced Commendatore. As the normally bloodless Don Ottavio we hear Jerry Hadley, a singer I have always admired. He manages to give some backbone to this character thanks to his Italian glow and both arias are highlights among these highlights, even the fairly dull Dalla sua pace.

Among the ladies Felicity Lott is a very good Donna Elvira, catching the poor woman’s despair with a slight flutter in her voice. Nuccia Focile is a lovely bright-toned Zerlina, maybe a little faceless, but the two arias are very well sung. The reading to trump the rest is Christine Brewer’s Donna Anna. With her large and beautiful dramatic soprano she delivers a glorious Or sai chi l’onore. There is more than a dash of steel in her tone but also more than a pinch of warmth. I can’t recall this aria better sung. The big recitative and rondo near the end of the opera Crudele! … Non mi dir is even more impressive with the intricate coloratura elegantly negotiated. The only weakness is that it leaves you wanting the complete recording.

Retailing at mid-price this disc has excellent production values. No texts and translations are given but there is a detailed track-listing related to the numbers in the score. You will also find quite extensive historical notes by H.C. Robbins Landon, a detailed synopsis and the aforementioned thoughts by Sir Charles Mackerras. Exemplary.

Göran Forsling

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