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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni - opera in two acts KV527 (1787)
Don Giovanni – Ruggero Raimondi (bass-baritone)
Commendatore – Kurt Moll (bass)
Donna Anna – Margaret Price (soprano)
Don Ottavio – Hermann Winkler (tenor)
Donna Elvira – Julia Varady (soprano)
Leporello – Stafford Dean (bass)
Masetto – Enrico Fissore (bass)
Zerlina – Lucia Popp (soprano)
Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. live, stereo, Nationaltheater, Munich, 12 July 1973
ORFEO C846153D [3 CDs: 54:47 + 67:20 + 37:46]

There are things to enjoy in this Don Giovani but it isn’t a classic performance. It’s one of those issues that made me wonder why Orfeo bothered, save that it was taking up space in the warehouse. Ruggero Raimondi is an unequivocally bass Don Giovanni, and that gives him a depth and nobility that is very impressive. In fact it is, I suspect, to admirers of Raimondi that this set will principally appeal. He sounds an awful lot more comfortable here than he did for Lorin Maazel in the Paris set that served as the soundtrack for the — widely accepted as awful — film version by Joseph Losey 1979. He isn’t above a tendency to squawk in, for example, the Champagne Aria, but he sounds truly great in the Commendatore scene. For once, in fact, it sounds as though the Don can stand up to the Ghost, and when the Commendatore is someone of the booming stature of Kurt Moll, that’s saying something. These two protagonists, combined with the steady, tension-building conducting of Wolfgang Sawallisch, make the damnation scene truly volcanic, certainly one of the best that I’ve heard on live sets. The curious should dip into this as the highlight of the set.

Elsewhere, the finest singer is Margaret Price, whose aristocratic Donna Anna radiates wounded dignity and soaring nobility. There was a lovely bloom on Price’s voice at this stage in her career, and she sounds magnificent, fully inside the character, both in her great arias and in the way she crests the top of the great ensembles.

Elsewhere, things aren’t so happy. Hermann Winkler makes heavy weather of Don Ottavio, sounding nasal and pressed, and the runs of Il mio tesoro are too much for him. We don’t get Dalla sua pace, and perhaps it’s just as well. Julia Varady sounds rather squally and under pressure as Elvira, and she continually rushes ahead of the beat in Mi tradě. Stafford Dean is an acceptable Leporello, but his bass voice is too close to Raimondi’s and their duets risk sounding monochrome. Lucia Popp makes for a nice Zerlina, with a lovely Vedrai carina, but Enrico Fissore’s pitching is rather wide of the mark in places.

The live occasion doesn’t really help much either. The audience are mostly well behaved, breaking into applause only occasionally, but the stage noises and movement can be intrusive, and the quality of the stereo really isn’t very good. In short, this set is an interesting curiosity, but no match for the other great sets. It’s still Giulini that rules the roost.

Simon Thompson






 




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