Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni - Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass), Leporello - Sesto Bruscantini (baritone), Don Ottavio - Alfredo Kraus (tenor), Masetto - Walter Monachesi (baritone), Donna Anna - Gundula Janowitz (soprano), Donna Elvira - Sena Jurinac (soprano), Zerlina - Olivera Miliakovic (soprano), Commendatore - Dmitri Petkov (bass).
RAI Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Rome/Carlo Maria Giulini.
rec. live, Rome, 12 May 1970
OPERA D’ORO GRAND TIER OPD 7080 [3 CDs: 63:15 + 67:53 + 35:45]

There are two live recorded performances of “Don Giovanni” from 1970 made within a couple of months of each other. Each has Nicolai Ghiaurov, commanding in the lead role, Gundula Janowitz thrilling as Donna Anna and the lesser-known Olivera Miliakovic competent but bland as Zerlina and occasionally out of tune. One is this broadcast by the RAI Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Rome under Giulini before a quiet studio audience and the other is a Salzburg Festival performance under Karajan. As such, they cry out to be compared, featuring two major conductors and two celebrated singers in favourite roles.

First, the sonics: both are very listenable but the sound in the RAI broadcast is much sharper and more wiry, with a fair amount of blare and distortion in concerted passages; the Salzburg recording is somewhat duller and more distant but easier on the ear.

The casts and forces assembled are both admirable: the Vienna Symphony Orchestra is undoubtedly smoother, keeps in tune better and is more refined than the intermittently untidy Italian orchestra but the latter is lithe and responsive under Giulini and remains very acceptable. Karajan is more animated than Giulini and better at generating tension at key dramatic moments. Although at times Giulini achieves a grandeur closer to Klemperer, ultimately the performance remains a little earth-bound.

Ghiaurov sings virtually identically in both: a big, smooth, rich bass, properly flexible and seductive if occasionally a little monotonous; not much wit or humour just a massive, testosterone-pumped confidence. Bruscantini has rather too neat, light and refined a baritone for the earthy Leporello and he sounds rather more like the Don’s uncle, but he delivers the Italian text with relish. Having said that, Geraint Evans’, bluffer, broader more blustery manner is more apt for depicting the aristocratic philanderer’s put-upon side-kick and Evans’ coarser way with the comedy isn’t necessarily out of place. To my ears, Stuart Burrows’ mellifluous yet powerful tenor for Karajan is far preferable to that of Alfredo Kraus, who, contrary to expectation, is rather acidulous of tone, snatching and yelping at some notes and unable to take “cercate a consolar” in one breath in “Il mio tesoro”. As much as I am a huge admirer of Sena Jurinac, I suggest that she isn’t quite comfortable or at her best as Elvira here; Giulini tries to ease her round the sharp corners of her arias but she is gusty at this stage of her career. Teresa Zylis-Gara for Karajan is finer, purer and more flexible. Giulini’s Commendatore is Slavic, weak and wobbly; Victor von Halem, by contrast for Karajan, is everything he should be: firm, brazen, huge-voiced and chilling. Janowitz is simply divine in both recordings, dominating the ensembles, agile and soaring in her solos. I love her fluty tone. Its rather virginal, disembodied character is perfect for the prim and proper Donna Anna.

The Karajan account emerges as the clear winner. However, if you want Giulini at his best, his famous, earlier EMI studio recording remains the first choice; it is tauter, more characterful and by and large better sung than this later performance.

This de luxe Opera d’Oro “Grand Tier” version offers a full libretto, synopsis, notes, photos and biographies. It is also available in the standard bargain issue with nothing but the briefest of synopses and cues.

Ralph Moore

The Karajan account emerges as the clear winner.