on 25 April 2008
This is a historic live recording of a performance at the Salzburg Festival in July 1956. After the untimely death of Furtwaengler in 1954, Mitropoulos was chosen as one of the short-term replacements by the festival organisers to fill the vacancy. Although he was not noted as a Mozartian before, he signed up to conduct Don Giovanni in 1956 - the bicentenary of Mozart's birth. (Karajan assumed control in Vienna and Salzburg soon afterwards.)
It must be said at once that this is a really wonderful performance. Mitropoulos's conducting is masterly. Vocally, there is no weakness in the cast: all the roles are ideally cast and the singers are first-rate. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performs with exceptional elan.
One of the stars of this performance is Cesare Siepi. He has a seductive voice that perfectly suits the hero's image. The role of Leporello is sung by Fernando Corena marvellously: he has a gift for comedy. Lisa della Casa's portrayal of Donna Elvira is excellent - at once imperious from anger for the Don's betrayal and tender for her unrequited love for him. Her voice is radiantly beautiful. Just listen to a trio in the scene of seduction by the Don - "Ah! taci, ingiusto core" (Be still, fickle heart) in Act II. It is not surprising that she was one of the stars in Vienna and Salzburg for the roles in Mozart's and Richard Strauss's works during the 1950s and 60s. Elisabeth Gruemmer is an ideal Donna Anna with her sweet timbre.
Among other singers, Leopold Simoneau sings the role of Don Ottavio marvellously: he is a really elegant legato tenor. Rita Streich is a very good coloratura soprano, although her voice is slightly too trilly. Her characterisation of the coquettish Zerlina is very good.
For an old mono recording taken from the radio broadcast in the mid-1950s, sound quality is surprisingly good. The orchestra's sound for the Overture is not so promising, but the overall sound soon improves. The voice is caught very clearly. There are occasional noises from the stage, but this should not bother the listener: they may even add the atmosphere of a special occasion. The audience is appreciative with enthusiastic applause after some splendid arias. All in all, this is a most enjoyable recording. Finally, there are no libretti in the booklet, although there are cues for arias and recitatives.
In 1955, Decca made a very good studio recording of the work in Vienna (reissued in the "Decca Legends" series). Josef Krips expertly conducts the performance. The then top cast at the Vienna State Opera is led by, as here, Cesare Siepi (the Don). Della Casa also sings Donna Elvira splendidly. Suzanne Danco's Donna Anna is not quite as good as Gruemmer, while Anton Dermota (Ottavio) is good but not as elegant as Simoneau. The stereo sound is excellent. So, it is interesting to compare these two recordings.