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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni - opera in two acts (1787)
Don Giovanni - Werner van Mechelen (baritone)
Commendatore - Harry van der Kamp (bass)
Donna Anna - Elena Vink (soprano)
Don Ottavio - Markus Schäfer (tenor)
Donna Elvira - Christina Hogman (soprano)
Leporello - Huub Claessens (baritone)
Zerlina - Nancy Argenta (soprano)
Masetto - Nancy de Vries (baritone)
Collegium Compostellanum
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. live, October 1995, Auditorio de Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94389 [3 CDs: 152:41] 

Brilliant’s Opera Collection has done a good job of resurrecting some decent recordings that might otherwise have fallen prey to the deleter’s axe. I came to this one with high hopes as I really enjoyed Kuijken’s period Cosí. As with that set, the finest thing about this recording is the playing of La Petite Bande, who really bring the score to life. They bring all the best virtues of a period performance in their clarity and textural detail, illuminating the score and shining a spotlight on things that could otherwise be missed, but they don’t have any rawness to their tone. The first chords of the overture really make you pin your ears back and might just help you to rediscover the sense of excitement you first had about Don Giovanni. They are at their finest in these big dramatic moments, and their accompaniment of the damnation scene is superb. They are also fine in the gentler moments, though, such as the lovely cello in Batti, batti and a fabulously characterful wind band for the Don’s final banquet. Kuijken’s tempi are really striking, too, in the sense of how “conventional” they sound, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The tendency for period performances of this work (such as Gardiner) and even some recent performances on modern instruments (such as Mackerras) is to take the Commendatore’s music at a fair lick, but Kuijken’s tempi for this music, as throughout the work, are more measured. In fact, they wouldn’t be out of place next to those of, say, Davis or Giulini. This means that this Don Giovanni is more likely than any recent set to appeal to those who fancy the idea of period instruments but don’t like the sometimes over-hurried pacing of some “authentic” conductors.
 
The singing is more mixed, though, and pales in comparison with those on the sets mentioned above. Werner van Mechelen sings respectably, but he is, at heart, an uninteresting Don, with little of the sexual chemistry or sense of mystery that really enlivens this character. Huub Claessens’ Leporello is solid but, again, lacks the touch of humour that really enlivens the master/servant relationship. The two serious females are sound, though Christina Hogman’s Elvira is on the histrionic side, while Elena Vink sounds compromised and squally in some of the high tessitura. Markus Schäfer appears seriously out of form as Ottavio, making quite a meal of Il mio tesoro, and Nancy de Vries is a fairly workmanlike Masetto. Harry van der Kamp is imposing enough as the Commendatore, but his voice would have needed some special effects in the final scene if it were to make more of an impact. In fact, only Nancy Argenta’s Zerlina really sparkles, her beautiful voice offset by a coquettish streak and the sense of a sly wink.
 
This set can’t really compete with other, more famous recordings, and there is some irritating audience coughing as the second act progresses. However, it might be a good “entry level” Don Giovanni for someone who doesn’t want to spend too much on the other sets. Its other undoubted virtue, beside the playing, is the super-bargain price. This means, of course, that there is no libretto. You can access this online, but the one Brilliant provides on their website is in Italian only, with no translation. By the way, the version Kuijken adopts omits Dalla sua pace and Elvira’s Mi tradi.
 
Simon Thompson

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