on 20 May 2013
If Kierkegaard is to be believed - and who would argue lightly with our Danish friend - Don Giovanni offers catharsis, understood as the purification and purgation of emotions - not least pity and fear on the part of the viewer - through its exposition, interplay and resolution. True, there is a stupendous deus ex machine at the conclusion of K 527 with the arrival of the Commendatore but who is able to retain their critical faculties at this point? It is the one instance in his oeuvre, varied though it be, where Mozart red-lines himself in an effort to keep up with his own inspiration. A successful performance of Don Giovanni should leave one fully energised and, as William Mann states, ready for anything.
Which brings me to the set in question. I enjoy the virility of Terfel's Don: he's wearing the ever-so tight trousers of Priapus and sure as hell he is going to do something about it. Pertusi as Leporello lacks projection (let's blame the placement of the microphones) but otherwise has a pleasant voice. Groop as Zerlina is leathery: errrh, read this as a fail. Ann Murray, as ever, is serviceable at best as Donna Elvira. The Commendatore sounds elderly and not inappropriately so but a Kurt Moll he ain't. Fleming burns as Donna Anna. Herbert Lippert is a non-wimpy Ottavio even if he fails the breath-test at Il Mio Tesoro. Equally, the Masetto sounds breathless. Solti certainly earnt his wages on the night.
Above and beyond the debits and credits, there is a wider flaw to my ears: catharsis is non-existent. As portrayed, I don't care about the fate of any of these protagonists: they can all go to hell with the Don. This is canned heat, not genuine fire. As I understand it, this is a concert-performance rather than a stage production and the lack of greasepaint is telling. Nor is the cause assisted by the London Philharmonic which plays pertly and ever so blandly; I cannot recall a single instance of incandescence on their part. The Decca recording is excellent.
If you want a polished concert-performance of Don Giovanni, this hits the mark or thereabouts. Consummation and catharsis lie elsewhere.
I part company with some previous reviewers who seem to be uniformly delighted by all the singers here. For me, this is a real mixed bag, insofar as some performances are truly delightful, while others are distinctly sub-par. As for Solti's conducting, he is by no means too aggressive but he certainly finds more drama and momentum in proceedings than, for example, Nézet-Séguin in his recent Baden-Baden concert recording. The crucial last scene is grand and steady, building inexorably to a suitably chilling climax.
Definite advantages are: the shimmering, impassioned Donna Anna of Margaret Price, who, despite some weakness in the lower reaches of the voice, makes light of the higher stretches of the role; Lucia Popp's pert, charming and sappy-voiced Zerlina - a role too often under-cast; Sylvia Sass as Donna Elvira who makes a really dramatic impact despite not being a natural Mozartian, with a voice somewhat too heavy and unwieldy for the part; Stuart Burrows yet again demonstrating that his plangent, liquid, long-breathed tenor is ideal in Mozart; and finally the black-voiced Kurt Moll bringing real menace and a very firm, beautiful line to his Commendatore.
The problems are with the Don, Leporello and Masetto. Bacquier works so hard at inflecting every phrase with comic import that he forgets to sing - and indeed he seems at times to be virtually voiceless, crooning and patching over the notes with very little resonance in the tone. Similarly, Weikl works too hard on the text and omits to give us a seductive legato, resorting too often to throaty emphasis and displaying the beginnings of the bleat which began to obtrude until by the 90's his voice provided far less which is pleasing to the ear than we hear in, for example, his fine Eugene Onegin for Solti in 1974. Alfred Sramek - a singer unknown to me - is a woolly-voiced Masetto.
In other words, this is an inconsistently cast version which despite the excellence of individual singers has languished in the second-rank. You may hear Burrows singing just as well for Colin Davis in his studio recording or live for Karajan in Salzburg, Price, Popp and Moll are present in Sawallisch's live, 1973 Salzburg recording and there are countless sets with more satisfying Master-servant duos, involving singers such as Siepi, Waechter, Ghiaurov and Berry, so this recording for all its virtues cannot be in the front rank.
on 8 March 2014
This recording seems to be a product of two concert performances from the Royal Festival Hall in early October 1996. I don't know the recording setup, but as I listened with my Bose headphones, it's clear that there was some movement among the singers and that they weren't all statically in the same relation to the microphones for the whole performance. Sometimes the sound for an individual voice was very good, and sometimes less so -- but it was never less than acceptable. Most important, the relation of voices to orchestra seemed to me just right -- plenty of orchestral presence, but the voices not overwhelmed and certainly not too distanced. So kudos to the engineers -- recording opera live must be very difficult. SO -- what about the performance itself?
The drama was certainly attended to. All the singers seemed fully engaged with their texts and sang with vivid expression. Add to that Solti's energy -- driving forward, but never too crudely, and keeping the whole thing going. The Act 1 finale, for example, seemed to me very well conducted, and even though there was some lack of polish in the fast concerted singing at the end, the expression was right and the transitions between the different sections of the finale were finely judged. And -- in a different kind of music -- Solti's attention to the lower string figures in the accompaniment to "Batti, Batti" is almost worth the price of the set! The Act 2 finale isn't quite as successful: the playing is lucid, refined and energetic, but it lacks weight and it doesn't build to the climax as well as it might. For all that, Pertusi and Terfel give their all in this scene, and in vocal terms, it's mighty impressive. What about the singing in general? I thought Terfel was really good -- when the microphones got his voice full on, so to speak, it was something to hear, and his ability to fine the voice down for the honeyed persuasions was most impressive. Pertusi was a lively Leporello, interacting vividly with Terfel and singing well. Renee Fleming was a fine Donn' Anna, singing out for the audience in a way that shows you her strengths both vocal and technical in a way that the studio recitals, good as they are, don't quite. The country couple were also fine, Monica Groop especially. Slight disappointments from Herbert Lippert as Ottavio and Anne Murray as Elvira. Murray's voice loosened notably in the higher exposed regions of her arias. In the ensembles, she kept better control. Herbert Lippert was a bit bland as Ottavio -- maybe I've been spoiled by Ramon Vargas's very virile Ottavio on DVD (with Keenlyside as the Don) -- but he didn't let the side down. Mario Luperi, a name I didn't know, was a fine Commendatore.
The studio recordings by Krips and Guilini still are in my mind the best overall recommendations on CD, and Keenlyside with Mackerras ( and Joyce Di Donato as Elvira) is absolutely scintillating on DVD, but that's with the video, which makes a difference to the experience. This one with Solti does justice to Mozart and deserves a place in any Don Giovanni collection.