complete Don Giovanni squeezed into two compact discs
and at budget price – what a bargain! It may seem so but there
are some drawbacks.
is complete as far as the music goes; it is performed here in
the (original) Prague version with the two arias that Mozart
wrote for the Vienna premiere added as an appendix. That is
all to the good. However, to accommodate the opera on two brimful
discs quite a lot of the recitative has been omitted. In the
second act not a single recitativo secco is retained until the
one with Don Ottavio and Donna Anna that leads seamlessly into
Donna Anna’s recitativo accompagnato: Crudele? Ah no, mio
bene and her aria Non mi dir. We also get Don Ottavio’s
few bars of recitative after the aria. And then the finale begins
so we do get approximately the last half-hour unbroken. Otherwise
the impression left is that one is listening to a highlights
disc. The fact is that a lot of important information and action
is in the recitatives. When shorn of this element one loses
continuity. ‘But I hate those recitatives!’ I can hear some
readers exclaim. People who are very close to me feel exactly
the same, but opera is also theatre and without the recitatives
there many musical numbers lose their sense and setting. Take
for instance the scene in act two when Don Giovanni and Leporello
change clothes so that Leporello can entice Donna Elvira away
while Don Giovanni pays court to her chambermaid. The scene
after the trio, when Leporello tries to imitate his master and
gradually comes to enjoy the theatre while Elvira is again infatuated,
is lovely comedy. Then Don Giovanni frightens them away and,
when alone, he sings his serenade. Here the trio and the serenade
succeed each other and immediately after the serenade Don Giovanni
sings the aria where he instructs Masetto how to find Don Giovanni.
It makes no sense if we don’t know the situation: that Masetto
and his friends have encountered Don Giovanni and told him that
they are going to catch the crook and hang him. And after the
aria Don Giovanni beats up Masetto and leaves him groaning on
the ground. Then Zerlina comes and soothes her poor fiancé,
singing the aria Vedrai carino. Here we know nothing
of this – we hear just a pretty aria. I could go on with more
examples but I think this gives a clue as to what is missing.
those who insist that recitatives are dull and that it is the
music that counts jump at this offer? Scanning the cast-list,
readers who have memories of the sixties, seventies, even the
eighties, will recognize several famous names. The conductor
is Daniel Barenboim and he is one of the most important today.
I am afraid, though, that he is the one who lets this recording
down most of all. With the excellent English Chamber Orchestra
in the pit – no, they are of course in a studio – I would have
expected a light and springy performance. Sadly it is, by and
large, plodding and long-winded. Just recently I reviewed a
re-issue of another Don Giovanni from the EMI back catalogue:
Riccardo Muti’s with the Vienna Philharmonic. He was rather
on the fast side and played very much on extremes of dynamic
and sometimes of speed. This reading is quite the opposite.
Take the sextet in the third act, one of the great ensembles
in the history of opera: Muti keeps things moving all the time
and catches the nervousness, the suspicion, the anger, the hatred.
We feel the quick movements, the heartbeats; Barenboim’s singers
get a lot more time to express their feelings but there is no
thrill, rather a sense of boredom. The tempo marking is andante
which can be interpreted in different ways, but Barenboim is
closer to largo. In the last section of the ensemble,
marked molto allegro he is at least close to that. Zerlina’s
two arias usually make their mark; here they fail and it is
not Helen Donath’s fault or at least not in the main. This young
and fresh peasant girl sounds as though she has been partying
the previous night when she sings Vedrai carino.
everything is so wayward, several numbers are well paced and
well shaped but the general feeling is like the morning after
the day before. With singers of this calibre there is however
still a lot to admire. Helen Donath isn’t exactly glittering
but her slightly fluttery light soprano is in good shape – if
uninspired. Heather Harper is a strong and dramatic Donna Elvira,
maybe too strong: one listens in vain for the vulnerability
and the duality that is inherent in this unhappy character.
Antigone Sgourda is the great surprise here. She creates a Donna
Anna with the dramatic ring that the part requires but most
of all she shows deep insight and sings with great sensitivity.
Her angelic pianissimos go directly to the heart. She exposes
the duality that is missing in Donna Elvira. Why she isn’t better
known is an enigma. Googling resulted in 1580 hits but of the
first 40 or so practically everyone referred to this recording.
the male side there is a strong and expressive Masetto in the
shape of Alberto Rinaldi, who has been a reliable singing actor
for several decades. Peter Lagger is unfortunately a weak Commendatore
and the impact of the finale is sadly diminished by the absence
of a thundering Stone Guest. Luigi Alva, always elegant and
stylish, sang Don Ottavio fifteen years earlier in the legendary
Giulini recording. Having, just a couple of days ago, listened
to his first Count Almaviva (1957) in Il barbiere di Siviglia
– his signature role – it was obvious that the intervening eighteen
years had left their mark on his voice. The musicality is still
there and so is his honeyed pianissimo but the tone has hardened.
His vibrato at forte is slightly annoying and in Il mio tesoro
he is shaky on sustained notes though his runs are fluent enough.
need to turn to Don Giovanni himself and his man servant. Roger
Soyer is given as bass and Geraint Evans as baritone but both
sound like bass-baritones. Without a libretto or a score it
isn’t always clear who is singing what. Soyer has the more rounded
voice and his is a strong but not particularly penetrating reading.
He sings his serenade with liquid tone. The second stanza is
honeyed and in the aria sung before beating up Masetto he has
face. Geraint Evans has face in abundance. This is after all
one of his signature roles. I have recently listened
to a live Falstaff from 1957 and his Leporello from Covent Garden
in 1962. I expected him to be rather dry of voice at this late
stage, but I was wrong. Naturally it has aged from 1962 but
so has his interpretation and the voice is slightly darker.
His timing and expressivity is admirable and without any element
of caricature he draws a very vivid portrait of the pitiable
Leporello. The best reason for acquiring this set is certainly
Geraint Evans and a rare opportunity to hear Antigone Sgourda.
the inlay there is a photo of most of the ensemble in the control
room. There are no texts and translations but a synopsis where
the omitted recitatives are related in brackets. Thus it is
possible to get some idea about the story. For those who feel
they can live happily without recitative this may be the best
of two worlds. If they sense that the quality of the singing
and playing are to their liking, investing in this cheap twin-pack
might be a good idea. Others are advised to look elsewhere.
The aforementioned Muti set, albeit on three discs, is one suggestion.
For a really quick performance there’s the highly recommendable
Arnold Östman on Decca - also on two discs but with recitatives!
The Naxos set under Halasz and with Bo Skovhus as a splendid
Don, is a good middle-of-the-road version. I could easily list
another half dozen.
some good singing here but the recording is let down by lethargic
tempos and the omission of most of the recitative.