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
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