Don Giovanni

JÉRÉMIE RHORER, 2016
Myrtò Papatanasiu (Anna), Julie Boulianne (Elvira), Anna Grevelius (Zerlina), Julien Behr (Ottavio), Jean-Sébastien Bou (Giovanni), Robert Gleadow (Leporello), Marc Scoffoni (Masetto), Steven Humes (Commendatore), Choeur de Radio France, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Jérémie Rhorer

In his series of performances of Mozart operas with the Cercle de l’Harmonie, Jérémie Rhorer has already conducted Così Fan Tutte at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées and Le Nozze di Figaro in Beaune (as recorded in video by France Musique), but Don Giovanni is his first Da Ponte opera officially released. Recorded live in Paris by Radio France, these CDs have excellent sound that keeps the atmosphere of the stage performances in an unobtrusive way. Rhorer is an urgent Mozart conductor whose performances are structurally transparent and theatrically informed. His orchestra’s string section may sound wiry, but the balance with woodwind is exemplary, making for ideal harmonic clarity. Singers and orchestra here produce unified dramatic statements, so integrated is their phrasing. This accounts for a particularly dramatic closing scene, in which the conductor throws caution to the winds and goes for the white heat approach. If this exposes his team’s limitations, it does not fail to thrill the audience. If I am not more enthusiastic about this release, this has to do with the lackluster cast here assembled. With four recordings as Donna Anna to her credit, Mirtò Papatanasiu is probably the best documented singer in this role. If she has shown some development in her recording with Teodor Currentzis (SEE BELOW) from earlier flawed attempts, her singing in Paris does not show any improvement since then. On the contrary. Unless when in mezza voce, her soprano sounds squally and vibrant in a distressing way. The stretta of Non mi dir is hardly something one would feel like listening for the second time. If Julie Boulianne fares better than most mezzos in the soprano part of Donna Elvira, she does it with harsh tonal quality and lack of variety and charm. In this company, Anna Gravelius’s caprine high notes do not prevent her from stealing the show. She is an earthy and vivacious Zerlina, whose razor duet – with more than a little help from the conductor – is simply the best in the discography. Julien Behr’s tenor sounds a bit taut and reined-in for Ottavio, but he does not seem fazed either by the coloratura in Il mio tesoro or the long phrases in Dalla sua pace. Jean-Sébastien Bou’s matte tonal quality does not make his Don Giovanni immediately attractive and yet he sings with energy and purpose. He is somewhat overshadowed by Robert Gleadow’s Leporello, whose metallic and nasal bass-baritone is nonetheless not truly ear-friendly. However, the dramatic commitment and forceful singing place him right in the middle of the events. Steven Humes is a curiously bright-toned Commendatore who manages the low tessitura commendably, but is ill at east with Mozartian style and not immaculate in what regards intonation.

TEODOR CURRENTZIS, 2015
Myrtò Papatanasiu (Anna), Karina Gauvin (Elvira), Christina Gansch (Zerlina), Kenneth Tarver (Ottavio), Dimitris Tiliakos (Giovanni), Vito Priante (Leporello), Guido Loconsolo (Masetto), Mika Kares (Commendatore),  Orchestra and Chorus of the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre – Musicaeterna, Teodor Currentzis

In the booklet to these CDs, Teodor Currentzis explains that Don Giovanni is the culmination of his series of Da Ponte opera recordings, and this is something one could have anticipated from the previous releases, which had more than a splash of the bombastic more appropriate to the music and libretto of an opera involving attempted rape, murder, a ghost and the very opening of the gates of hell. As it is, this is less a culmination than third-time charm: this is the score Currentzis had always wanted to conduct. Whereas the nervousness and emphasis seemed uncomfortable at the Almaviva’s and between Fiordiligi and Dorabella and their fiancés, they build up to powerful finali for both acts. The finale to act I often lacks intensity and rarely suggests any sense of peril. Not here: it is masterly calculated in terms of tempo (the last minute usually ends up too fast and messy) and the violins cope with the passagework both accurately and expressively (if a bit raspishly). If I am less impressed by the very efficient finale ultimo, it is because I still find John Eliot Gardiner’s (SEE BELOW) more straight to the point and even more powerful. I agree with the conductor in his assessment that he was successful in finding specific tonal coloring for the serious and buffo characters. Zerlina, Masetto and Leporello sing to a rustic sounding and and tangy orchestra, and the results could not be more commendable. If it one does not feel fully convinced, this must have to do with some unnecessary mannerisms (for instance, there is an aggressive accent whenever Zerlina says baciare - to kiss – that makes absolutely no sense to me). The serious and semiserious characters are less lucky – their orchestral sound picture is often too dry and unatmospheric. In numbers such as Ah, taci, ingiusto core, one hears the blanks between the notes and the impression is rather tentative and unappealing. In these moments, the fortepiano continuo (that plays throughout also during numbers) adds an extra touch of abrasiveness to the sound, which I find unpleasant. Also, creatively and stylishly as both Benoit Hartoin and Maxim Emelyanychev improvise over Mozart’s music, I cannot help thinking that the CONTINUO should not sound as an OBLIGATO part. To my ears, the fortepiano here sounds very close to the solo composed for the concert aria Non temer, amato bene K. 505. Similarly, there is so much added to Deh vieni alla finestra that the mandolin sounds a bit lost in the middle of all that, as if Don Giovanni had a team of musicians for a serenade supposed to be sung to his own accompaniment. In any case, as much as in the other items of this series, the level of musical clarity and dramatic awareness in the orchestral playing, understood as an element of equal standing with the singers, is constantly revelatory – even if their sound is not terribly beautiful. For that reason alone, this recording deserves a special place in any Mozart opera collection, but I doubt that it is going to be anyone’s desert island CDs. The edition has all arias for Don Ottavio and Donna Elvira plus the razor duet (and the usual finale ultimo).

This is Myrtò Papatanasiu’s third entry as Donna Anna in this discography. Recorded live in Macerata and Amsterdam, the rich and forceful voice did not seem to be Mozart’s best friend. Here, straightjacketed in historically informed style, she sings on 60% of her natural overtones, dealing with most of her high notes with mezza voce and trying to keep the vibrancy at its minimal. The good news is that she does it adeptly: her soprano sounds mostly creamy and her high notes float freely and without any difficulty. When she needs a little bit more grit, she only needs to let her voice go a little bit more. Although Non mi dir is not truly exquisite (and the conductor adopts some schyzophrenic shifts in his beat here), it is very competently dealt with, including the difficult fioriture. Karina Gauvin was an inspired choice for the role of Donna Elvira, she handles both notes and text expertly and, if her high register is a bit reined in, she masters the art of producing emphasis without forcing her tone. Christina Gansch’s soprano tonal quality is a bit faceless, but she is at ease with Mozartian style and resists the temptation of making it too sweet. This is after all a buffa part. Kenneth Tarver’s was a praiseworthy Don Ottavio for René Jacobs (SEE BELOW) and his singing has only grown in confidence and spontaneity since then. Dalla sua pace, especially, is more mellifluous here than before. Dimitris Tiliakos’s light baritone is velvety and spontaneous in tone if not very alpha-male-ish. He is an intelligent singer who makes good use of the text and phrases in perfect style. He is well contrasted to Vito Priante’s firmer-grained and more colorful voice. His Leporello sounds aptly young and spirited. Being Italian, he delivers the text with crispness and imagination and fortunately without exaggeration. The other Italian in the cast, Guido Loconsolo, is an ideally cast Masetto. Mika Kares is a forceful and rich-toned Commendatore, his voice almost too beautiful for the role.

NICOLA LUISOTTI, 2014
Malin Byström (Anna), Véronique Gens (Elvira), Elizabeth Watts (Zerlina), Antonio Poli (Ottavio), Mariusz Kwiecien (Giovanni), Alex Esposito (Leporello), Dawid Kimbetg (Masetto), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Commendatore), Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Nicola Luisotti

This release after screenings in movie theatres all over the world shows yet another attempt of the Royal Opera House to add a reference to the videography of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Although director Casper Holten had already shared his fascination about transgression and his bad opinion about women’s sincerity in his movie “Juan”, he decided to repeat this among other formulas (comic-book-like projections, having singers say their lines to the benefit of characters other than those chosen by the librettist etc etc) in a production that,  even if scenically clever, adds very little to what we know about Lorenzo da Ponte’s text while failing to wow the audience in dazzling sets or costumes.  Depicting Don Giovanni as a lost soul haunted by the other characters until he finally discovers he had been in hell for a long while is indeed a very interesting concept, but the staging does not really turns around this idea but rather has it as background decoration: the overall impression is just unclear and fidgety rather than truly intense. It must be said that the Personenregie is efficient and the cast faithfully follows the concept even when verges in the unintentionally comic, such as the Joan-Crawford-meets-Lucille-Ball Donna Anna or this-cannot-be-just-cocaine Don Giovanni. Nicola Luisotti is a competent Mozartian lost among the conflicting needs of helping a mostly unideal cast, of coping with the director’s demands (how about butchering the finale ultimo?) and of making do with an orchestra not really adept in flexibility and clarity. Although he does keep things under admirable control in flowing tempi, the musical performance lacks profile and is also conceptually kept in the background for examples of cavalier Mozart singing. One can only marvel at Malin Byström’s stamina and health: she sings with untiring heroic quality and unusual richness of overtones even when unflinchingly attacking very high notes. However, the caricature perversely boosted by the director’s caprices is no replacement for an authentic Mozart interpretation, the requirements of which (nuance, tone colouring, textual crispness, instrumental flexibility…) are perfectly compatible with dramatic intensity, as one can sample elsewhere in this discography. This is Véronique Gens’s first big-house recording in modern pitch in the role of Donna Elvira. Her singing has lost poise and warmth since the days of her CDs with Jean-Claude Malgoire, but has gained in punch and theatrical intent. There are more smoothly sung Donna Elviras in other recordings (although they are getting rarer these days), but whenever the French soprano is on stage, one finally has the impression of hearing Mozart in these DVDs. It would be unfair to say that Elizabeth Watts does not know Classical style – she is an intelligent singer with a great deal of imagination and one can see that she knows what she should be doing, but her soprano is a bit unwieldy and thick, the high notes somewhat raspy and the low register lacks colour. With his natural and bright tenor, Antonio Poli could be a good Don Ottavio, but here he sounds uncomfortable with what he has to sing and many difficult passages come across fluttery and effortful. There is no doubt about Mariusz Kwiecien’s excellence in the role of Don Giovanni – when he does concentrate on the music, such as in his flawless, elegantly animated “Champagne aria”, he sounds simply ideal. The fact that the staging requires from him escalating exhilaration should not have compromised the quality of his singing, but, unfortunately, it does: by the end of act I, he is basically gnarling and in act II he is mostly barking, shouting or breathless or any other variation of roughness. As he is characterful and the basic tonal quality is pleasant, one eventually gets used. This is a trap duly avoided by Alex Esposito, an experienced Leporello in his first official recording. He is in very good voice, makes his comic interpretative points without exaggerating too much and knows when he should just sing “straightly”. He is also a good comedy actor and his interaction with his Don Giovanni is the most successful aspect of this performance. Alexander Tsymbalyuk is a firm-toned, solid Commendatore.

THOMAS HENGELBROCK, 2013

Anna Netrebko (Anna), Malena Ernman (Elvira), Katija Dragojevic (Zerlina), Charles Castronovo (Ottavio), Erwin Schrott (Giovanni), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Jonathan Lemalu (Masetto), Mario Luperi (Commendatore), Balthasar-Neumann-Chor, Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble, Thomas Hengelbrock

The DVDs from the Baden-Baden Festival features some big-house names in a period-instrument performance. Anna Netrebko has a long history in this opera – first as Zerlina (most notably at the Metropolitan Opera House) – and then as Donna Anna in Salzburg, London, Milan among other places. For many, she was ideally cast in this role in which her full-toned lyric soprano that tackled the testing tessitura and coloratura adeptly, not to mention her dramatic commitment and sense of style. It is a pity she did not record it before her current investigation of heavier repertoire. As heard here, it is still a performance to be reckoned with – Or sai chi l’onore and its recitative unusually richly sung. However, when things get high and fast (as really often in this role), there are too many blurred divisions and extra breathing pauses and imprecise rhythmic treatment to make it as compelling as it used to be. Let’s hope that some of the old broadcasts surface into the catalog to do full justice to her former accomplishments in this difficult role. Although Malena Ernman is a mezzo with an impressive high register, Donna Elvira (as usual with mezzos) is beyond her possibilities. As the role is portrayed in true mezzo carattere style, she explores inequality of registers and some unglamorous sounds without looking back and sometimes cracks some difficult nuts (as in the end of her act II trio with Don Giovanni and Leporello), but she mostly sounds labored, foggy and fatigued. Katija Dragojevic is the second mezzo in this cast – although her voice is unfocused and slightly hooty, it does have a sexy thing about it. If her intonation and legato were more consistent, this might actually have been interesting. Charles Castronovo is a more energetic Don Ottavio than usual. He sings with energy and vigor, but his passaggio is beefed up in a way that sometimes suggests more Puccini than Mozart. Erwin Schrott was for a while the Don Giovanni of choice in every opera house in the world. It used to be a complete musical-dramatic experience with some provocative and imaginative touches. By 2013, not only had his approach become unashamedly self-indulgent, but also his voice has roughened up a bit: the sound here is a bit artificially darkened, sometimes a bit woolly or tremulous and halfway through act II, frankly tired. It seems that the director had encouraged him to give reins to his fantasies and there is an almost embarrassing narcissism now and then, but still his Don Giovanni has a splash of  the telenovela “likeable wretch” that makes it surprisingly coherent as a character. This is Luca Pisaroni’s third recorded Leporello, here a bit rougher in the edges that in his previous recordings. He establishes an intense synergy with his Don Giovanni and – as often – this seems to energize the performance as a whole. The role of Masetto has one aria, in which he says that Don Giovanni may as well be a cavaliere (a gentleman), but his real intent is to make a cavaliera of his fiancée (a jeu de mots – an Italian noblewoman is a “dama”, so the sense here is “mistress”). If Jonathan Lemalu cannot see the enormous difference between the “e” and the “a” here, he should have declined to sing this role. It is difficult to say much about Mario Luperi’s Commendatore: his voice is here amplified with plenty of echo to sound “eerie”. The Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble is a period instrument orchestra of unusual polish that readily and efficiently responds to Thomas Hengelbrock’s nervous conducting. Although there is flexibility and transparency aplenty, Hengelbrock has too many fussy little touches (most usually acc. and ritt. to highlight dramatic changes of atmosphere) and too little taste for the sensuousness and charm of Mozart’s score. In the end, it is a performance one follows with some interest, but that ultimately leaves one cold. Philipp Himmelmann’s vacuously aestheticized production (singers have designers’ clothes that say nothing about character and do not fit them very well, the single Tadao Ando-like set does not create much of an atmosphere…) rightly turns around acting. There is this old-groupie Donna Elvira who cannot help her sexual attraction to Don Giovanni, the pervert-by-proxy Leporello, the non-wimp Don Ottavio, the skank-with-a-heart Zerlina… but everything is so overly and superficially done that one cannot truly relate to these people on stage. Although Don Ottavio does not sing Dalla sua pace and Donna Elvira skips Mi tradì, there is no razor duet and the final scene is shown complete.

YANNICK NÉZET-SÉGUIN, 2011
Diana Damrau (Anna), Joyce DiDonato (Elvira), Mojca Erdmann (Zerlina), Rolando Villazón (Ottavio), Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Giovanni), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Konstantin Wolff (Masetto), Vitalij Kowaljow (Commendatore), Vocalensemble Rastatt, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Seguin

Recorded live in Baden-Baden in excellent sound and almost no noise from the audience, Deutsche Grammophon’s starry CDs are a strong contender in the discography. Yannick Nézet-Séguin embraces the white-heat approach, producing rich sounds from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and tackling every phrase in the score as if his life depended on it. Differently from most young conductors these days, this does not necessarily involves fast tempi; the conductor sculpts his concept rather from accent than from speed, giving lyric episodes time to breath while sustaining tension throughout. There are moments when the score requires sharper definition – here the approach is so uniformly intense that one eventually gets used to it – and a lighter touch, a more flexible beat and more contrast would have done all the difference in the world. The finale ultimo, for instance, does sound a bit heavy and blunt. Fortunately, there is no lack in clarity (one can even hear the subtle contribution of the fortepiano to the orchestral playing) in the sense that everything is hearable, but one often misses the purpose behind what one is hearing. You just need to listen to Claudio Abbado’s far less dramatic recording to listen to even the shortest notes in passagework naturally and consequently played. It is also interesting to compare this to the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s previous recording under Daniel Harding: the recorded sound is very bad, the strings seem thinner in tone and the pace is vertiginous, but the structural clarity is still there. In any case, the new recording is a preferable in almost every other department, also for those who find Abbado, for instance, somewhat bland. Starry as it is, the cast has been chose rather by Sales & Marketing than for artistic reasons. For example, Diana Damrau is aflame in theatrical engagement, but her soprano is here so piercingly squillante that she finds it hard to produce the kind of clean line normally associated to Mozartian singing. She does tackle her fioriture adeptly if not truly elegantly and rarely floats mezza voce when this is required from her. Joyce DiDonato sounds here more comfortable in the role of Donna Elvira than in the Royal Opera House. She too can sustain the kind of intensity required by the conductor, but Mi tradì, even transposed, is not really part of the deal. In this characterful cast, Mojca Erdmann’s Zerlina passes almost unnoticed. If her singing is stylish and pretty, the monochrome tonal quality makes it ultimately saccharine. There is some constriction and a hint of Donizetti in Rolando Villazón’s tenor but it is so warm, natural and flexible that one is very easily convinced by his assertive and passionate Ottavio. A frequent Leporello in the discography, Ildebrando d’Arcangelo has been singing the title role in leading opera houses for a while, and this is his first official CD recording in it. He is not very suave or nuanced, but his all-out approach fits Nézet-Séguin’s, especially for his basic tone is full, dark and noble enough. It is only distracting that his Leporello, Luca Pisaroni, sounds more Don Giovanni-ish in comparison. In any case, the latter has matured a bit in the part since Glyndenbourne. Konstantin Wolff is an excellent Masetto, probably offering the best account of his aria in this discography. Vitalij Kowaljow is on paper a very good choice for the Commendatore and indeed there is little to fault here – there is evening the “optional” low note in his final utterance – but he does not sound really frightening as some basses in the discography. One must not forget that recitatives are vividly sung by every member in this cast, what makes continuous listening particularly interesting.

LOUIS LANGRÉE, 2010
Marlis Petersen (Anna), Kristine Opolais (Elvira), Kerstin Avemo (Zerlina), Colin Balzer (Ottavio), Boje Skovhus (Giovanni), Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello), David Bizic (Masetto), Anatoli Kotscherga (Commendatore), English Voices, Freiburger Barockorchester, Louis Langrée

According to the dramatis personae  of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production for the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Donna Anna is the daughter of the Commendatore (indeed), Don Ottavio is her new fiancé (new?!),  Zerlina is the daughter of Donna Anna from a first marriage (Da Ponte says she is a “peasant girl”), Masetto is Zerlina’s fiancé (the libretto says he “is in love with Zerlina”, but, ok, it is their wedding day…), Donna Elvira is Donna Anna’s cousin (”a lady from Burgos abandoned by Don Giovanni”), Don Giovanni is Donna Elvira’s husband (”extremely lecherous young gentleman”) and Leporello is a young relative of the Commendatore living in his house (”Don Giovanni’s servant”). As you see, these characters are a bunch of people using the names and the lines of Lorenzo da Ponte’s Don Giovanni. How exactly portraying a character as an entirely different person adds to anyone’s understanding of the original character, this eludes me entirely. As it is, we see an extremely dysfunctional family who loves to undress and throw themselves to the ground at any available opportunity. Any insight so far? Precisely. When the original lines collide with the director’s own scenario, a simple solution is used: these are delivered as if those people were in some sort of role-playing-game. Donna Elvira pretends that she is a lady from Burgos and Don Giovanni responds her fictional questions as if he were Don Juan. And they do this out of sheer cynicism. For almost three hours. Then Zerlina is supposed to be the daughter of Donna Anna, who is less the most unmotherly figure ever shown on stage but rather someone completely oblivious of the presence of this young woman who pretends to be the peasant girl, when the dialogues are too obvious to be overlooked. Ah, are we supposed to be shocked by the party in which everybody kisses everybody? Has anyone NOT guessed that Tcherniakov would make Don Ottavio kiss another man?! Seriously… Even if one pretends that this had not anything to do with Da Ponte, it is still ludicrous, especially when people start to bounce and spin and behave as if they were seriously mentally impaired. This also boosts Boje Skovhus’s already immense fondness for hamming to unbearable levels. Even if the Freiburger Barockorchester has a dry and harsh sound – and Louis Langrée almost invariably goes for the bombastic, what makes them sound even more abrasive and unpolished – this is a performance of unusual level of  both clarity and dramatic purpose. There is not any passage of the score where every element of Mozart’s music is not highlighted in both its theatrical and musically structural meaning. This could have been a selling feature for these DVDs, but then there is one of the most frustrating casts ever assembled in a Mozart opera. I was going to write that, in normal circumstances, Marlis Petersen would have been cast as Zerlina – but then there is the fact that she lacks weight and low notes even for that role. As Donna Anna, she sounds strained, unsubtle, monochrome, inaudible in lower reaches and incapable of producing any crescendo in more outspoken passages. On the other hand, the one color she has is pleasant enough, she has no problem with high notes and is very fluent in her coloratura. The bad news is that she arguably is the best singer here. Kristine Opolais’s Elvira offers a series of variations of the edgy, the acidulous and the emphatic. In any case, both sopranos sound like golden age divas compared to the inept Zerlina. Colin Balzer too is adept in his runs and also sings with some poise, but he croons everything above the passaggio. Skovhus’s Don Giovanni is extremely affected, self-indulgent, awkward in both ends of his range and plagued by awfully accented Italian. His previous studio performances are far more polished and stylish. Kyle Ketelsen is an efficient Leporello, probably the all-round less problematic performance here, but still not competitive in a starry discography. In any case, you can always sample his Leporello in the DVDs from the Royal Opera House (see below), when he is more at ease. The Masetto, David Bizic, has a natural and appealing voice.  Anatoli Kotscherga sings his own version of the tonal system here.

VLADIMIR JUROWSKI, 2010
Anna Samuil (Anna), Kate Royal (Elvira), Anna Virovlansky (Zerlina), William Burden (Ottavio), Gerald Finley (Giovanni), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Guido Loconsolo (Masetto), Brindley Sherratt (Commendatore), The Glyndenbourne Chorus, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Vladimir Jurovski

Don Giovanni is a story involving attempted rape, murder, seduction and a supernatural event – nobody wants it to sound heavenly, but I wonder if Vladimir Jurowski’s heavy-handed strife for impact is the answer for the many open questions in Mozart’s score and Da Ponte’s text. Although it has its thrilling moments, it has the dubious virtue of making singers and orchestra often uncomfortable. Articulation is sometimes impressionistic, synchrony is not always there, the sound picture is frequently brassy and noisy with strident sounds from the strings – everything is so uniformly driven that there is no sense of climax and of chiaroscuro in this performance. In the end, it sounds just rough. Maybe if Jurowski had the Vienna Philharmonic with its polished, flexible and rich sounds to frame his concept, it might have worked in some way. Jonathan Kent’s staging gravitates around the aesthetics of Federico Fellini’s movies. Soloists, choristers and extras act very well and are also well directed but soon one sees that the director, unlike Fellini, doesn’t have any special insight into human nature and by the end, everything seems terribly conventional. Although this is one of Anna Samuil’s rare recordings, I do not believe it makes her justice at all. I have seen her sing the role live at La Scala and, even if her voice is distinctively Slavic, it is not unpleasantly metallic and gusty as recorded here. As it is, she sounds here everything but Mozartian, not really accurate and very generic in what regards interpretation. She does have an easy top register as every Donna Anna should and tackles divisions with ease. There is a Donna Elvira somewhere in Kate Royal, but she has not found it yet. She tries too hard to vocally portray a virago, but her warm, creamy soprano refuses to play along. Her entrance and her big arias basically sound all over the place, and I am not sure if her un-der-li-ned stressing of words in recitative is really effective. Among the women, Anna Virovlansky seems like the aural image of Mozartian grace in comparison. Her round, fruity soprano is pleasant on the ears and she knows how to spin a seductive line. William Burden is a firm-toned, honestly sung Ottavio, who lacks some imagination and variety. In any case, it is always a pleasure to hear a tenor in this role who does not seem to be dying out of sing his (not really) high notes. At first, the idea of casting Gerald Finley as Don Juan seems like seeing James Stewart in a Humphrey Bogart role, but once you give him a chance, you’ll quickly discover that he has it in him somehow. His baritone is faultless, he caresses Deh vieni alla finestra better than most and he is more than energetic enough. Sometimes he veers too much towards parlando in recitatives and definitely abuses pitch in the closing scene for dubious effects – probably his weakest moment here. Luca Pisaroni is a bit light-toned for Leporello and tends to overkill as a comedy actor, but he is congenial and the tone is never less than agreeable. Brindley Sherratt too is on the light side for the Commendatore. The edition adopts some elements of the Viennese edition – Ottavio sings only Dalla sua pace, Leporello does not sing Ah, pietà, signori miei (replaced by the correspondent recitative) and takes part in the razor duet, while Donna Anna and Don Ottavio do not sing their duettino in the finale ultimo – but Elvira still gets Mi tradì.

ZUBIN MEHTA, 2009
Anna Samuil (Anna), Maria Luigia Borsi (Elvira), Chen Reiss (Zerlina), Dmitry Korchak (Ottavio), Nicola Ulivieri (Giovanni), Maurizio Muraro (Leporello), Simon Orfila (Masetto), Marco Spotti (Commendatore), The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta

Zubin Mehta’s only official recording of Don Giovanni was recorded in three concerts in Tel Aviv with an international cast. The Indian conductor has to his credit commendable recordings of Le Nozze di Figaro and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (with the forces of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino) and one can guess here that he could have offered an account of this opera in the same level in more proficient circumstances. As it is, although one acknowledges the forward movement, the natural rhythmic flow and the attention to dramatic situations, the orchestra’s indistinctive tonal quality, the raspish sound of strings in passagework, the below-standard chorus and a certain feeling of straitjacket makes it impossible a true sense of story-telling. It is doubly unfortunate then that these singers too are not in the position to assume that role. Especially because the recorded sounds place an edge in their voices that make their results even more unsatisfying. Anna Samuil’s performance as Donna Anna could be described with the same words used for her performance one year later for Jurowski, but she sounds even rougher here. In any case, it is far preferable to the unfocused, ungainly and unstylish singing of the Donna Elvira. Even if this is probably Chen Reiss’s less successful recording caught by the microphone, she is still above the level of her colleagues in the sense that hers if a lovely voice and that she is able to present an all-round character in spite of everything. Dmitry Korchak is an unsubtle and squally Don Ottavio. If Nicola Ulivieri’s Don Giovanni is basically throaty and colorless, his animation and idiomatic quality are obvious advantages. His Leporello, Maurizio Muraro, is more vocally imposing, although he has his moments of unsteadiness. Marco Spotti is a forceful but fluttery Commendatore.

RICCARDO FRIZZA, 2009
Myrtò Papatanasiu (Anna), Carmela Remigio (Elvira), Manuela Bisceglie (Zerlina), Marlin Miller (Ottavio), Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Giovanni), Andrea Concetti (Leporello), William Corrò (Masetto), Enrico Iori (Commendatore), Coro Lirico Marchigiano “Vincenzo Bellini”, Orchestra Regionale delle Marche, Riccardo Frizza

Although the reason why this performance caught live in Macerata has been released seems to be the fact that there are semi-naked and/or naked people on stage, I still wonder why someone would really go through two hours of subpar Mozart singing when the Internet offers more revealing options elsewhere. As it is, Pier Luigi Pizzi’s minimalist production has no sets, anachronic costumes and a Personenregie turning around the concept that characters have very tactual rapports with each other, especially between Don Giovanni and the ready-for-every-kind-of-fun Leporello. Even if the orchestra is everything but glamorous in sound, it offers a very acceptable performance under the baton of Riccardo Frizza. His conducting style involves some ritt. and acc. effects borrowed from Harnoncourt, but put to more organic and consequent use here. Don’t expect for clarity of articulation, but balance is usually very well judged. Myrtò Papatanasiu and Mozart still aren’t best friends, but her Donna Anna shows signs of improvement after her DVD from Amsterdam (see below: METZMACHER): her high register is rounder here and she is marginally more comfortable with softer dynamics and brave enough to deal with the faster beat, not always elegantly truth be said. Carmela Remigio used to be an interesting Donna Anna in her youthful prime (see BELOW: HARDING and ABBADO). She has neglected her technique since then and here offers an unsubtle, metallic and labored Donna Elvira. She does handle the text adeptly and has temper to spare, but you can find that allied to stylish phrasing and solid singing elsewhere. Manuela Bisceglie is a charming Zerlina defeated by poor intonation. Marlin Miller’s case is harder to frame: his Don Ottavio are isolated moments of beautiful singing surrounded by large episodes of pedestrian tonal quality, awkward technique and poor taste in decoration, and his Italian leaves something to be desired. If you want to sample Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s Don Giovanni, this is your performance. Here the voice does not sound lugubrious and unvaried as it would eventually do and his interpretation is more youthful and appealing than in his next recording (see ABOVE: NÉZET-SÉGUIN). Although Andrea Concetti is vivid enough a Leporello, his voice has hardened a bit since his earlier recording (see BELOW: MASCHIO). Enrico Iori’s Commendatore does not seem very promising at first, and yet he manages to make something of his final scene.

BERTRAND DE BILLY, 2008
Annette Dasch (Anna), Dorothea Röschmann (Elvira), Ekaterina Siurina (Zerlina), Matthew Polenzani (Ottavio), Cristopher Maltman (Giovanni), Erwin Schrott (Leporello), Alex Esposito (Masetto), Anatoli Kotchserga (Commendatore), Konzertvereiniung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Bertrand de Billy

The video from the 2008 Salzburg Festival features Claus Guth’s staging in a single revolving set showing a roadside forest at nighttime. Although Christian Schmidt has done a terrific job, for the woodland looks impressively realistic, it does not really fit the story and the trick of portraying both Don Giovanni and Leporello heavily doped in order to explain why the audience doesn’t see many things mentioned in dialogue wears its effect off too soon. The idea of a Don Giovanni shot by the Commendatore is, however, an interesting explanation for the character’s feverish almost frantic behavior. Zerlina and Masetto act as if they have been married for a long time- but at least they are indeed husband and wife –  while the unmarried Donna Anna and Don Ottavio seemed trapped in a lifelong marriage in their bitterness and cynicism towards each other. Roger Norrington once wrote that Anna has been often portrayed as a neurotic, Elvira as a bitch and Zerlina as a tart, although the music and the words show them rather as heroic, vulnerable and natural, respectively. The truth lies probably somewhere in between, but the fact is that Mozart invested Da Ponte’s words with affetti and other music-dramatic conventions that suggest something far less blatant than what one sees here. Guth’s mondo cane ideally required a conductor other than Bertrand de Billy, whose approach turns around playing this score as fast and as transparently as possible. There is nothing demonic going on musically here, but one must acknowledge that the Vienna Philharmonic follows the concept in virtuoso manner. My experience in the theatre of an insipid Donna Elvira from Annette Dasch did not prepare me for her commendable Donna Anna. The voice itself is not terribly beautiful or noble-toned, but she produces full-toned top notes and handles fioriture adeptly – both arias show no hint of difficulty. I would write that Non mi dir lacked affection, but Claus Guth’s Anna is not really sensitive anyway. It has become a habit for sopranos to sing the lower adaptation of Mi tradì, but other than this Dorothea Röschmann is an exemplary Donna Elvira – creamy-toned, stylish, impetuous and expressive. Ekaterina Siurina’s bell-like virginal soprano does not suggest Zerlina’s sensuous nature. I know, Don Ottavio usually is such a bore, but I am afraid I prefer that to the cuckold-and-loving-it guy with episodes of sarcasm. In any case, Matthew Polenzani is in good voice and sings a tender Dalla sua pace. Cristopher Maltman is a firm-toned, energetic Don Giovanni who could be more mellifluous if he did not have to seem impossibly exhausted as he does here. Erwin Schrott offers a brilliant Leporello, a portrayal far more complex than his Giovanni, his understanding of the text and interpretative variety making his characterization as a tic-laden junkie believable. Alex Esposito is very well cast as Masetto, but the stentorian Anatoli Kotscherga is foreign to Mozartian singing. Although recitatives are sometimes trimmed not to collide with the director’s concept, one basically hears the Vienna edition.   Many believe that Mozart never played the closing sextet in Vienna, but there is no evidence of that. As a matter of fact, the Neue Mozart Ausgabe claims that there were in fact various Vienna “versions”, since Mozart must have experimented different possibilities including what regards the deletion of the scena ultima, and offers, as “Zusätze und Änderung der ‘Wiener Fassung’”, the deletion exclusively of bars 689-749 (Don Ottavio and Donna Anna’s duettino). If my personal opinion is of any relevance, the opera sounds unfinished without the closing scene.

CHARLES MACKERRAS, 2008
Marina Poplavskaya (Anna), Joyce DiDonato (Elvira), Miah Persson (Zerlina), Ramón Vargas (Ottavio), Simon Keenlyside (Giovanni), Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello), Robert Gleadow (Masetto), Eric Halfvarson (Commendatore), Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Charles Mackerras

Charles Mackerras is an acknowledged Mozartian whose long experience with this score can be felt in the naturalness with which he makes his dramatic points without ever tampering with this music’s flow. It is unfortunate that, differently from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (in Mackerras’s studio recording), the Covent Garden Orchestra is not really comfortable with Mozartian filigree: passagework in strings is often unclear and the sound picture is generally not clean enough. To make things worse, the recorded sound is too favourable for singers. If an exceptional cast had been preserved for posterity here, one could overlook that – but that is hardly the case. Marina Poplavaskaya has a reasonably large and flexible voice and deals with the difficulties in the role of Donna Anna quite commendably. The problem is that she is rarely adept with holding a clean Mozartian line – her sense of pitch is fallible and she also indulges in scooping and gutturalness. Joyce DiDonato is in another league altogether – not only is she technically immaculate, but also offers a most sophisticated interpretation with intelligent word-pointing and tonal variety. There is no doubt about her accomplished singing, but one cannot help noticing that the role of Elvira does not sound comfortable in the mezzo soprano voice (the usual transposition in a half-tone of  Mi tradì is a minor detail – one may always point out that in Mozart’s day the aria was probably sung roughly a half-tone lower anyway) – and if she is probably the best mezzo Elvira in this discography, there is a list of sopranos who are finally more convincing. Miah Persson is a bell-toned Zerlina who lacks seamless legato. Ramón Vargas is too full-toned and unsubtle an Ottavio; although this has the effect of making the role less passive that it uses to be, one wishes for more classical poise. Simon Keenlyside is not particularly seductive vocally speaking, but is entirely at ease in this role. In this production, his seduction is supposed to be more muscular than subtle, what does not really fits this singer’s personality and age. His Leporello, Kyle Ketelsen, is most vivacious. Although his voice is more imposing than his master’s, the role is a bit on the low side for him. He allows himself parlando effects too often and the result can be finally rough, as in his big aria. Eric Halfvarson is a forceful Commendatore, if not entirely comfortable with the difficult tessitura of his second-act scene. Francesca Zambello’s production is nonsensical, with ugly, anachronic costumes and sets and a plethora of irrelevant props, extras and action. Why nobody is left alone on stage is a mystery to me. In the cemetery scene, Leporello and Don Giovanni are surrounded by some 30 people. When they first hear the voice of the Commendatore, one really does not understand why Leporello would believe that it should come from a ghost when they are in the most crowded nocturnal event that has ever held place in a graveyard. Fortunately, with the exception of Poplavaskaya and Vargas, the cast is quite competent in the acting department.

INGO METZMACHER, 2007
Myrto Papatanasiu (Anna), Charlotte Margiono (Elvira), Cora Burggraf (Zerlina), Marcel Reijans (Ottavio), Pietro Spagnoli (Giovanni), José Fardilha (Leporello), Roberto Accurso (Masetto), Mario Luperi (Commendatore), Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Ingo Metzmacher

As in the video from Così Fan Tutte from the same series, Don Giovanni is staged in the 60’s, albeit in an almost Pirandellian approach, the sets reduced to a series of beds and the whole action as devised by Lorenzo da Ponte replaced by nonsensical voyeuristic games between characters. Although many points raised by directors Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito are interesting, those are so unsubtly raised that they ultimately fail to invite viewers to give a second thought – in the end, all you want is to press the “eject” button and watch a real staging of this opera. If the musical performance offered something to tell home about, maybe you could close your eyes and make it to the end, but the truth is that Ingo Metzmacher is a blunt Mozartian. His phrasing is heavy, his accents are exaggerated, the performance does not flow naturally, singers have little space to relax and ensembles are often roughed and sometimes poorly synchronized. The edition here performed has cuts in recitatives but retains Zerlina and Leporello’s razor duet. The continuo played on a virginal on stage involve moments where the cello carries the bass line alone, for bizarre effects. Myrto Papatanasiu can sing what Mozart wrote for Donna Anna, but she is too often gusty, rarely caresses a line and rarely suggest anything other than some kind of unexplainable fierceness. Charlotte Margiono is an experienced if unimaginative Donna Elvira, who mysteriously sings the adaptation for mezzo soprano of Mi tradì, and Cora Burggraf could be a charming Zerlina if her voice did not had such unwelcome nasality in its high register. Although Marcel Reijans is more comfortable here than in the video from Barcelona, his Ottavio is still unappealing. Pietro Spagnoli’s baritone lacks richness and warmth and suggests rather some Rossinian character as Taddeo in L’Italiana in Algeri than the burlador de Sevilla. José Fardilha is a light, pleasant-toned Leporello, but Mario Luperi is ill-at-ease with what he has to do as the Commendatore.

FRANZ WELSER-MÖST, 2006
Eva Mei (Anna), Malin Hartelius (Elvira), Martina Janková (Zerlina), Piotr Beczala (Ottavio), Simon Keenlyside (Giovanni), Anton Scharinger (Leporello), Reinhard Mayr (Masetto), Alfred Muff (Commendatore), Chor des Opernhauses Zürich, Orchester der Oper Zürich, Franz Welser-Möst

Although the string playing features reduced vibrato and valveless brass is employed in the Don Giovanni recorded in the Opernhaus Zürich and released on video by EMI, this is not one of those traditional performances with a historically informed twist. It is actually difficult to say what kind of Don Giovanni this is – it can be theatrical and intense as the overture suggest or also a shallow performance seriously lacking forward movement as shown both in Leporello’s Catalogue aria, Donna Anna’s Or sai chi l’onore and many other key moments. Although the non-approach is not a drawback in itself, by the end you are looking at your watch to see how much time is left to the end of the DVD. If I should point out a bonus in this performance, it is the clean and transparent orchestral playing. It is therefore a pity that the Tonmeister opted for a stage-prone balance; too often the adept orchestral playing sounds recessed compared to the soloists’ voices. Some might find that the idea was to focus on the singing, but the distinguished cast gathered here is sadly not in its best shape. The usually reliable Eva Mei, for example, is here gusty and metallic. Even her coloratura is not fluent as it uses to be and her hallmark high pianissimi are basically non-operating as recorded then. As her interpretation is generalized, I am afraid there is not much to cherish in her Donna Anna. This is not a mistake made by Simon Keenlyside in his role. Although his is a most intelligent impersonation, the voice itself is either strained in its higher reaches or poorly projected in its lower end. The final impression suggests some panache, but roughness is the keynote. Anton Scharinger’s Leporello has to work on a diet of gray tone and accented Italian. I must say I like the fact that Piotr Beczala’s Ottavio is the decent reliable if unexciting guy rather than the usual whimpery fellow, but his tenor is simply too thick for Mozart. On the other hand, even if Malin Hartelius’s soprano is too unsubstantial and unvaried for Donna Elvira, her expert word-pointing, deep understanding of the text and dramatic commitment put me on her side. With the help of the conductor, she sings a smooth, lyric and heartfelt Mi tradì. Most singers in the other difficult soprano roles complain that Zerlina tends to steal the show – and this is exactly what happens here. Martina Janková’s quicksilvery soprano is a treat to the ears and she knows how to caress a Mozartian phrase. Alfred Muff seems to be a forceful Commendatore, but it is difficult to say anything considering he is amplified off-stage in his final apparition. At first, Sven-Eric Bechtholf’s production set in the 1960’s promises an Antonioni-like depth with its mise-en-abîme sceneries, decadent grand hotel atmosphere and careful stage direction, but silly symbolism starts to take over and in the end there is too much empty gestures, a confusing crowd of choreographied extras and carelessness about some important details in the plot (the episodes involving Don Giovanni and Leporello using each other’s clothes are particularly misguided). To crown the shortcomings, you will see here the worst visit of the stone guest ever commited to stage.

RENÉ JACOBS, 2006
Olga Pasichnyk (Anna), Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Elvira), Sunhae Im (Zerlina), Kenneth Tarver (Ottavio), Johannes Weisser (Giovanni), Lorenzo Regazzo (Leporello), Nikolay Borchev (Masetto), Alessandro Guerzoni (Commendatore), RIAS Kammerchor, Freiburger Barockorchester, René Jacobs

In the booklet accompanying his CDs, René Jacobs proposes to restore Don Giovanni to the right stylistic approach, lost as a result of the Romantic performance tradition later associated to this opera. The idea is always refreshing, but the aura of novelty intended by the conductor is unjustified: Östman’s, Gardiner’s, MacKerras’s performances have achieved that with far less bravado some years ago. What seems obvious is Jacobs’s ambition to share a great deal of ideas about the work. As in the previous issues in his Mozart opera series, there is an omnipresent and maybe overcreative fortepiano not only in recitatives but also in the numbers with full orchestra, there is some eccentric phrasing going on and whimsical playing with tempo (especially sudden ritardando and accelerando effects). Some of the decoration in vocal lines sounds misplaced to my ears and some cute ideas (Zerlina’s repeated laughs or Leporello’s singing the text of the excerpts of Una Cosa Rara and Fra due litiganti…) probably sound better on paper. That said, I cannot deny this is the most attractive among Jacobs’s recordings of the Da Ponte trilogy. He does catch the demonic side of this work – the really intense and powerful closing scene being the obvious example – but, as in his other recordings, the sensuousness of Mozart’s writing eludes him entirely. And this might be a turn-off for many, especially in this of all works. To make things worse, I am afraid that the lack of allure also affects the cast. When the Don Giovanni is outsung by the Masetto, something must be wrong. And it is. Although Johannes Weisser is an intelligent and imaginative singer, his performance is vocally immature. His tenor-like baritone is tampered with all the way in order to achieve tonal variety not immediately available to him. The results are often artificial and unappealing and rarely has La ci darem la mano sounded so unattractive as in this performance. To his credit, he sings a beautiful but rather unsexy serenade and copycats Leporello’s voice as few recorded Giovannis (actually this is probably his best piece of singing in these CDs). I am afraid he is not alone to blame for the debacle of La ci darem…. Sunhae Im is twittery and devoid of womanliness to an extent unknown in the discography. The conductor’s fast tempi for her arias ultimately help her to be the less charming Zerlina recorded. Actually, the Donna Anna, Olga Pasichnyk, with her light creamy soprano, would have been far more appealing in that part. Cast in the prima donna role, she does a very clean job: her high notes are easy, her coloratura is nimble and her mezza voce is lovely. However, she is rarely commanding as the writing of her lines require. Alexandrina Pendatschanska is usually formidable – and Donna Elvira seems to be a role fit for her voice and temper. Nevertheless, she seems here determined to prove that she can be a period-style Mozart specialist and permanently scales down to almost straight-toned vocal production not entirely prone to legato. Trying to insert some attitude into that straightjacked singing makes her Elvira finally rather pointless. Alessandro Guerzoni’s Commendatore similarly displays far more attitude and text-crispiness than most basses, but he sounds overparted and short in both extremes of her voice. Fortunately, the recording features an exemplary Ottavio in Kenneth Tarver, who sings his divisions on the breath in Il mio tesoro, and a most reliable and a spirited Leporello in Lorenzo Regazzo.

DANIEL HARDING, 2006
Christine Schäfer (Anna), Melanie Diener (Elvira), Isabel Bayrakdarian (Zerlina), Piotr Beczala (Ottavio), Thomas Hampson (Giovanni), Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Leporello), Luca Pisaroni (Masetto), Robert Lloyd (Commendatore), Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Daniel Harding

Daniel Harding’s second Don Giovanni on video (recorded in the context of the Salzburg Mozart 250th Anniversary Festival) shows an entirely different approach from the conductor. The violence, the theatricality and the purposeful phrasing seems to have dissolved into well-behaved stylishness. There is no reproach on saying this – listening to the world’s leading Mozartian large orchestra travel through this score in sensible tempi is always a charming experience. Only one wonders why committing to DVD a performance entirely unexceptional, when there might be someone somewhere with something different to tell about this work. Although Donna Anna is a bit on the heavy side for Christine Schäfer, this resourceful soprano drives her bright voice around the traps in the difficult writing of her part with relative success. She is a stylish singer and produces soaring round top notes without any effort – both her arias are beautifully and sensitively sung. If Melanie Diener’s basic attitude and sound – a large creamy lyric soprano – are entirely fit to the role of Donna Elvira, it seems she was not at her best voice when this was recorded and she finds some of her high notes a bit difficult to reach. As a result, Mi tradì has its untidy and flat moments. She is the only singer a bit more adventurous with embellishment in the cast. It is true that Isabel Bayrakdarian squeezes her high register too often for comfort, but her soprano is pleasant enough and she inhabits Da Ponte’s words with extraordinary intelligence. Piotr Beczala’s healthy tenor is a bit out of place in this repertoire – his phrasing is rarely caressing, let alone varied. At this stage of his career, Thomas Hampson’s baritone has become rather juiceless and short both in top and bottom. He employs lots of acting with the voice to compensate the vocal shortcomings, but his attitude and experience finally deliver the goods. As for Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, his solid basso cantante voice now ocasionally acquires a rather cavernous sound that makes his Leporello even less winsome that it naturally tends to be. If you want to see him in his signature role, Muti’s video from Vienna is preferable. Luca Pisaroni is an excellent Masetto, but Robert Lloyd’s Commendatore is a bit tremulous. As in his Clemenza di Tito, Martin Kusej’s stage direction is most efficient until it starts to stray from the lines delivered by characters. As a result, people often converse with the walls, Donna Elvira says she is coming down when she is at the same level Don Giovanni and Leporello are and other bizarreries. In the end, Kusej reduces the supernatural elements in the plot to a bunch of women in underwear and replaces its darkness to clean complex stage contraptions and trendiness. There is nothing menacing, violent or even sexy in this high-tech Seville.

VICTOR PABLO PÉREZ, 2005
María Bayo (Anna), Sonia Ganassi (Elvira), María José Moreno (Zerlina), Josep Bros (Ottavio), Carlos Álvarez (Giovanni), Lorenzo Regazzo (Leporello), José Antonio López (Masetto), Alfred Reiter (Commendatore), Coro y Orquesta del Teatro Real, Madrid, Victor Pablo Pérez

While the DVDs from Barcelona offer the dictionary definition of Regietheater, Lluis Pasqual’s production for the Teatro Real in Madrid safely opts for the simple transposition of the action to the 1940’s (in Spain, of course, where the story takes place, one must not forget). The results could not be more praiseworthy. Sets and costumes are exquisite and the stage direction is intelligent and refreshingly respective of the libretto, but the most illuminating aspect in this performance is the added sense made by the context of a violent dictatorship in what regards the apparent impunity for the crimes of a villain such as Don Giovanni, here shown as ruthless aristocrat who does not hesitate to take profit of his social status to inflict his misdeeds on decent people who have no champion to defend them but religion. Although the house band lacks the polish of orchestras more experienced in Mozart, conductor Victor Pablo Pérez is not fazed by the demands from this difficult score and offers an exciting performance that also excels in structural clarity (aided by exemplary recorded sound too). His alertness on catching the shifts of mood and pace in both finali is particularly impressive. To make things better, there is also a reliable cast here. The bell-toned María Bayo is certainly overparted as Donna Anna, but that does not prevent her from offering a truly pleasant performance. Her top notes retain a lovely golden quality throughout and her phrasing is utterly stylish and musicianly. She should have only asked the conductor for a more comfortable tempo for the stretta of Non mi dir in order to avoid the nervousness that almost disfigured that difficult passage. Casting Donna Elvira with a mezzo-soprano is always risky business and Sonia Ganassi is no exception to this rule. Although she acquits herself rather adeptly here, her upper register has too often a gray-toned quality and Mi tradì required adaptations. On the other hand, María José Moreno’s silvery soprano is taylor-made for Zerlina and she sings this role with unfailing charm and good taste. The nasal quality in Josep Bros’s tenor never suggests the graciousness Mozart phrasing requires, but he offers an accomplished performance of this tricky role. Carlos Álvarez’s rich-toned baritone never fails to impress. His freedom with notes can be a problem, though – especially in ensembles. As for Lorenzo Regazzo, he is all-right in excellent voice and is equally at home both in the low and high ends of his range. That said, his sugar-rush approach is the aural equivalent of hamming (to say the truth, his stage performance is also plagued by overacting). In the first five minutes, it seems like enthusiasm, after that it is just annoying. Finally, Alfred Reiter is a forceful Commendatore.

BERTRAND DE BILLY, 2002
Regina Schörg (Anna), Véronique Gens (Elvira), Marisa Martins (Zerlina), Marcel Reijans (Ottavio), Wojtek Drabowicz (Giovanni), Kwangchul Yun (Leporello), Felipe Bou (Masetto), Anatoly Kocherga (Commendatore), Chamber Choir of the Palau de la Música Catalana, Orchestra Academy of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Bertrand de Billy

Don’t use drugs – that could be the point of Calixto Bieito’s production of Don Giovanni for the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona. One might wonder if this motto could not be applied to adventurous theatre directors when they are about to stage operas… I don’t want to seem narrow-minded, though. The premises of Bieito’s staging are interesting – the atmosphere of damnation and black humour in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto could fit the gutter where semi-criminal and intoxicated characters trail their lives. In act I, there are many interesting things to retain, especially in what relates to the character of Donna Anna. Her situation with Don Giovanni always sounds suspicious – and portraying her as a manipulative hag who accuses her lover of murder out of jealousy is an original and potentially interesting idea, especially when the singer taking this part enacts that so efficiently, particularly so in the recitative before Or sai chi l’onore. The junkie Donna Elvira could also be an explanation why she behaves so incoherently and the fact that everyone gets high with drugs and alcohol in Don Giovanni’s party could be a cause why these characters behave so awkwardly when their host is accused of molesting Zerlina. However, the recipe gets overcooked in act II. The fact that every character is shown drugged up is used as a dramatic panacea to explain everything and in the end it seems that the director simply got careless. It is important to stress that – even if the point-of-view is debatable – the director ensured that his cast follows his ideas with utmost conviction. If only for the successful direction of actors, this DVD is worth while watching at least once. Bertrand de Billy’s agile and stylish conducting fits the vertiginous direction and the Liceu’s orchestra is generally agile and transparent. Only the recorded sound is too favourable to singers, what impares clarity. Regina Schörg’s Donna Anna sounds untidier live and even vinegary in tone compared to her studio recording. She is the singer more immersed in Bieito’s concept and nobility of tone does not fit into her blustery approach. Marisa Martins is a bit ungainly and unlovely as Zerlina. She abuses from off-pitch effects, disfiguring thus her Batti, batti. Marcel Reijans is similarly ill-at-ease as Don Ottavio and the absence of Dalla sua pace is not regrettable. Wojtek Drabowicz has no problem in finding the demonic note in his Don Giovanni, but his baritone is not particulary appealing. Only Véronique Gens and Kwanchul Youn offer some interest. She is an experienced Mozartian and is in good voice. It is a pity she was not allowed to sing Mi tradì. Youn cannot compete with Gens in subtlety – his voice tends to be monochromatic and whenever the tessitura goes higher (as in the Catalogue aria) tends to loose colour – but the tonal quality is certainly pleasant to the ears.

DANIEL HARDING, 2002
Alexandra Deshorties (Anna), Mireille Delunsch (Elvira), Lisa Larsson (Zerlina), Mark Padmore (Ottavio), Peter Mattei (Giovanni), Gilles Cachemaille (Leporello), Nathan Berg (Masetto), Gudjon Oskarsson (Commendatore), Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Harding

Watching the video from Aix-en-Provence, recorded three years after the performance available on CD, one can see the important contribution of Peter Brook to the sense of theatricality and ensemble work in this performance. The almost absence of sceneries is not necessarily an advantage. On video, it might look a bit boring after a while, but the masterly stage direction, attentive to Da Ponte’s text and Mozart’s music brings forth so many interesting shadings to a well known piece that one should give a try, just for the change. Especially when the cast has so many good actors. Compared to the CDs (see below), Harding suffers from less clear recorded sound. It is more natural, but the sound image is not very precise and the noise of the wind on the microphone is a bit annoying. There are also moments when some of the frantic drive of the previous performance is replaced by a more careful appoach, more considerate to singers. Whether this is an advantage or not – it is a matter of taste. What is beyond discussion is that the cast changes are all for the better. Alexandra Deshorties is a remarkable Anna. Her creamy velvety soprano with reserves of force is homogeneous and easy throughout the whole range. Her floated pianissimi and dexterity in passagework – not to mention her alertness to the changes of mood in recitative – are praiseworthy. Also, her agile stage presence and feline looks help to build up an excellent performance. As for Mireille Delunsch, her fragile Elvira, conveyed through her absolute purity of tone, requires some adjustment. Her portrayal of a tormented woman ready to abandon her self-respect and pride for the man she loves may sound underpowered and uneventful at first. But in the end the unusual approach delivers its goods, more so with the special help of her outstanding acting. As in 1999, Lisa Larsson’s vivid Italian and dramatic imagination make for a somewhat uneven vocal production. Mark Padmore too sounds more comfortable in the CD performance. Nathan Berg is vocally a more imposing Masetto than Till Fechner, but his Italian needs a lot of improvement. Gilles Cachemaille and Gudjon Oskarsson have the same problems of their previous recording, but Peter Mattei seems to have improved his Don Giovanni, proving to be more comfortable to sing softly when necessary, while keeping the brightness and firmness he already had before.

BERTRAND DE BILLY, 2002
Regina Schörg (Anna), Heidi Brunner (Elvira), Birgid Steinberger (Zerlina), Jeffrey Francis (Ottavio), Kwangchul Yun (Giovanni), Maurizio Muraro (Leporello), Richard Mayr (Masetto), Reinhard Hagen (Commendatore), Sine Nomine Chorus, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Wien, Bertrand de Billy

As much as with Così Fan Tutte, Arte Nova has the edge on Naxos for a budget recording of Don Giovanni. In any case, Bertrand de Billy’s conducting does not need to fear the company of the best recordings in the discography. It is intense, fast, dramatic and also clear and intelligent. Just sample the breathless overture and the anxious opening scene to get the picture. The ORF orchestra is appropriately able to produce theatrical gestures while keeping musical values, although those used to period instrument orchestras may find the sound picture too percussive. Nevertheless, such an enterprise requires diabolically impressive singers. This is not the case here – efficiency would rather be the word I would apply to this cast. Promoted to the role of Anna, Regina Schörg offers impressively accurate coloratura in Non mi dir, but the voice lacks colour and the most exposed passages reveal a kind of nervousness which is not entirely welcome. On the other hand, Heidi Brunner is a most pleasant Elvira. Although she is usually billed as a mezzo, her Viennese sound grant her an unusually clean high register. Birgid Steinberger is gracious and vivacious as Zerlina, but, when things get difficult, her voice may sound raw. As for Jeffrey Francis, this is a more positive and darker-hued Ottavio than usual, but – different from most tenors in this restrict group – he does retain the necessary amount of poise in order to keep things going properly. As master and servant, we have two rather deep basses whose voices at moment may sound similar. Although Kwanchoul Yun has the nobler rounder tone, he is not the subtlest Giovanni in the market. That does not mean that his Don is made to sound manic or hell-driven – it just comes through in the same mezzo-forte-and-above shape. That said, the voice has its charm and, contrary to some reviewers, I like his full-toned-against-all-odds Champagne aria. Maurizio Muraro is less attractive vocally speaking. His idiomatic Italian finally does help him to produce the right effect. Reinhard Hagen does not need to fear competition – his bass is impressively powerful in the role of the Commendatore. Finally, one must note that the edition here used is the Prague one, with the Viennese additions offered in the end of the third disc.

NIKOLAUS HARNONCOURT, 2001
Isabel Rey (Anna), Cecilia Bartoli (Elvira), Liliana Nikiteanu (Zerlina), Roberta Saccà (Ottavio), Rodney Gilfry (Giovanni), Lászlo Polgár (Leporello), Oliver Widmer (Masetto), Matti Salminen (Commendatore), Opernhaus Zürichs Chor und Orchester, Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Zürich performance on video has downright ugly production and Jürgen Flimm’s stage direction seems to follow a rhythm completely indifferent to Mozart’s (and sometimes da Ponte’s) timing. The conductor’s approach to the score is as eccentric as in the Teldec CDs, but some elements have developed, generally for better. I don’t know if I like the less animated versions of Leporello’s arias and the unsubtle mask trio, but the faster and more intense Che giurammento, o dei and the darker, more dramatic and less fussy closing scene are definitely improvement. In the previous recording, the Concertgebouw offered lusher strings, but the new performance has more character with its wonderfully prominent woodwind, exemplary balance between singers and orchestra and rougher accents. More than that: differently from the stage director’s, most part of the conductor’s points do make sense theatrically speaking – and the video is particularly helpful to demonstrate that. The exquisite-toned Isabel Rey is a light lyric Anna, who takes readily to coloratura and throws some stunning pianissimi now and then. Cecilia Bartoli’s performance is entirely in line with the mezzo carattere style: she is half comic, half furious most of the time. The problem is that, whenever she is furious, her voice is not exactly ingratiating and acquires a rattling sound. Sometimes, her interpretative points impare any idea of legato, as in Ah, chi mi dice mai. Her most controversial moment certainly is Mi tradì, which is made here as a lyric meditative aria, and Bartoli displays a showcase of tone colouring and inflections, never singing the same linethe same way. Liliana Nikiteanu is a true find as a Zerlina, with her light sexy mezzo soprano that never gets edgy. She deserved a more noticeable Masetto than Oliver Widmer. Roberto Saccà has good ideas and notion of style, but his voice is neither pleasing nor ductile enough for Ottavio. Rodney Gilfry certainly has presence as Don Giovanni, but he is less well-behaved than for Gardiner and sometimes acts too much with the voice. Here he offers a less friendly concept of Don Giovanni, a man who is always going to extremes in order to flirt with death itself. Lászlo Polgár’s voice still sounds unsuited to Leporello – it is too noble in tone and too unspecifically articulated (he is clearly at a loss with the patter in Mille torbidi pensieri). His acting is also puzzling – his whole attitude is quite sophisticated, sardonic and ultimately blasé. Matti Salminen is a powerful Commendatore.

JAMES LEVINE, 2000
Renée Fleming (Anna), Solveig Kringelborn (Elvira), Hei-Kyung Hong (Zerlina), Paul Groves (Ottavio), Bryn Terfel (Giovanni), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), John Relyea (Masetto), Sergei Koptchak, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine

Most reviewers are going to feel tempted to compare Levine’s DVD with Muti’s and I’ll be no exception: both feature traditional stagings in important opera houses with prestigious conductors whose reputations as Mozartians have been settled in Salzburg and later in their home theatres. Although Muti still features the most accurate understanding of Mozartian phrasing and structural sense, Levine is nonetheless an expert in this repertoire and displays admirable understand of tempo and style. His orchestra is in impressive shape also, offering clean articulation and polish. However, the recorded sound is somewhat artificial, playing down the orchestral sound picture, highlighting details (especially woodwind) in an unnatural way and placing voices in too detached a manner in relation to the orchestra, marring concertante writing, which is the shining feature of Mozart operas. The glamorous cast here gathered is highly theatrical and responds vividly to Franco Zeffirelli’s experienced actors’ direction. Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that this production involves some carelessness about following the libretto. For example, Elvira is supposed to mistake Leporello for Don Giovanni but here the lighting is such that she would have to be blind not to realize her mistake. Although there are many examples of her irritating jazzy mannerisms and her tone tends to lack purity, Renée Fleming is a presentable Donna Anna. She has strong and original ideas about her role (some of them standing between her and legato, to say the truth), sings a powerful Or sai chi l’onore and is entirely at ease in an expressive account of Non mi dir. All in all, this performance is an improvement over her former recording with Solti. Solveig Kringelborn’s light-toned reedy soprano tends to get metallic and fluttery in the most exposed moments, but her thoroughly mezzo carattere approach is most welcome, while she still manages to produce the impact modern audiences expect from this role. Unfortunately, Hei-Kyung Hong’s performance does not match her sexy graceful figure. The voice is acidulous and her sense of pitch is suspect. Paul Groves similarly lets down as Ottavio, his high register lacking brightness and colour – and his divisions in Il mio tesoro leave something to be desired. Being the chubbier Don Giovanni on video, Bryn Terfel really has to work harder to make his point. As a result, he presents a far more varied and persuasive performance than for Solti, offering a spirited, rather violent approach to his role, beautifully conveyed through intense verbal pointing, often avoiding the kind of exaggeration this singer tends to indulge in. Ferruccio Furlanetto is a colossal Leporello, a reference performance, strongly communicative, although the tone is less fresh than in Karajan’s Salzburg performances. John Relyea is a congenial firm-toned Masetto, but Sergei Koptchak – even if more positive than in his La Scala performances – is still a shallow-toned Commendatore.

MICHAEL HALÁSZ, 2000
Adrianna Pieczonka (Anna), Regina Schörg (Elvira), Ildikó Raimondi (Zerlina), Torsten Kerl (Ottavio), Boje Skovhus (Giovanni), Renato Girolami (Leporello), Boaz Daniel (Masetto), Janusz Monarcha (Commendatore), Nicolaus Estherházy Sinfonia, Michael Halász

Michael Halász’s recording on Naxos is a puzzling affair. Pretend there has been nothing between Krips recording and the year 2000 and you’ll get close to what happens here – but do not forget that there is no Suzanne Danco or Cesare Siepi around anymore…  According to Hungary’s legendary reputation, the strings offer beautiful rich sound and, when they are not doing labourous passagework (as in the overture), they often amaze you with the beautiful writing Mozart reserved them. Woodwind playing is not in this level (nor brass) but they are quite easily heard. The problem is that, maybe if the recording were more natural, there would be more clarity. Tempi are not necessarily slower than what we are used to find today. The closing passages of both finali are quite fast, for example, but there is little creativity going on here – the only expressive resource found in the orchestra seems to be boosting on volume. Rhythms are a bit on a straitjacket and ornamentation does not belong to this universe. Adrianne Pieczonka’s big lyric soprano is here ill-fitted for Donna Anna. She is uncomfortable with the tessitura, the coloratura and the pianissimi. Regina Schörg is closer to everyone’s idea of a Mozartian soprano, offering a Viennese bell-like sound capable of some expansion in the lower reaches, elegant phrasing and some concern about the text. However, her technique is too irregular. In one moment she may be impressive, only to make something awkward in the next one. In any case, the role of Elvira is a bit on the heavy side for her and she sounds edgy in the most outspoken moments. Ildikó Raimondi is above her colleagues standard, even if her soprano is not young-sounding enough for Zerlina. Her best moments are her arias. I do not know what to say of Torsten Kerl’s Ottavio. It sounds as if Senta’s boyfriend found another girl who does not care much about him either. Even if he does some difficult things here (the fioriture in Il mio tesoro in one breath and the repeat in Dalla sua pace in mezza voce, for example), his René Kollo-isms simply are too bizarre for Mozart. The curious thing is that he is the Ottavio you can hear more often than any other – sometimes more than you would wish. For example, when he simply outsings Pieczonka in Che giuramento, o Dei! Boje Skovhus improved a lot his Don Giovanni from the Mackerras’s set – now he offers passable Italian and has a more heroic voice (even if less spontaneous in the forte passages). He responds eagerly to his Italian Leporello, Renato Girolami, who offers a decent performance even if lacking a bit tone in the upper reaches. Boaz Daniel is a pleasant Masetto, but Janusz Monarcha is too woolly and throaty as the Commendatore.

RICCARDO MUTI, 1999
Adrianne Pieczonka (Anna), Anna Caterina Antonnacci (Elvira), Angelika Kirchschlager (Zerlina), Michael Schade (Ottavio), Carlos Álvarez (Giovanni), Ildebrando d’ Arcangelo (Leporello), Lorenzo Regazzo (Masetto), Franz-Josef Selig (Commendatore), Wiener Staatsopernchor und orchester, Riccardo Muti

Riccardo Muti’s latest DVD from Vienna outclasses not only his two previous recordings, but also most recent recordings of this opera, especially on video. The Vienna State Opera Orchestra is in resplendent shape and responds with richness of sound to the conductor’s vivid rhythmic and theatrical conducting. I still would like the supper scene to be more agitated than here, but the power and precision of the orchestra are admirable nonetheless. The cast is also very strong. Adrianne Pieczonka is here a more accomplished Donna Anna, singing with creamy round tone throughout. Only in the stretta of Non mi dir, one feels she is not at ease – but compared to most big-house Annas, one might say she is impressive even there. Although Anna Caterina Antonacci does not seem to be in her best voice, she is consistently musicianly and ends on beating a long line of rivals by offering shapely phrasing while keeping dramatic tension.  Her native Italian is of great hel too, especially in recitatives. I am rarely convinced by mezzo Zerlinas, but Angelika Kirchschlager really won me over with her spirited performance, the naturalness of her Italian and the fearlessness of her top register. Although Michael Schade voice can sound tense and not exactly charming when sung loud, he has impressive control of soft dynamics and breath management. Both arias are nimbly sung. As Don Giovanni, Carlos Álvarez cannot help but calling all attentions with his extra rich bass-baritone. I feel tempted to write his singing is amazingly natural – but the depth of his tone is quite extraordinary. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, as much as Pieczonka, has improved from his official recorded performance. His voice is now richer and the characterization is far improved. Lorenzo Regazzo is a Masetto one does not overlook (and that is an accomplishment) and Franz-Josef Selig, in spite of some throaty and unsteady moments, has the vocal nature for the part of the Commendatore. Unfortunately, the production is ugly and some of the stage direction is quite silly. Thank God the singers taking the “comic” parts managed to do something interesting out of it. I wonder why the Vienna State Opera has preferred this aesthetic nonevent to their previous exquisite Zeffirelli production.

DANIEL HARDING, 1999
Carmela Remigio (Anna), Véronique Gens (Elvira), Lisa Larsson (Zerlina), Mark Padmore (Ottavio), Peter Mattei (Giovanni), Gilles Cachemaille (Leporello), Till Fechner (Masetto), Gudjon Oskarsson (Commendatore), Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Harding

Reviewers have called Daniel Harding’s performance “very fast” full stop. Although his tempi tend to be fast (not always – Mi tradì and Vedrai, carino, for example are quite slow in comparison with recent recordings), this is secondary to tge understanding of Mozart phrasing and structure Harding displays here. Not only is the level of clarity absolute, but one can also find sense in every little note written by Mozart. Listen to Vedrai, carino – rarely have those rhythms sounded so precise and yet so natural. His control of transitions in the finale of act I is masterly – and I can never cease to amaze that he was only 23 when he recorded this live. To make things better, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (only brass and drums are “original” instruments) is a model of precision and flexibility. It is only a pity that the recorded sound lacks naturalness – I suspect too many microphones may be to blame. It particularly lacks space in tutti, but  voices are faithfully recorded. Although this is not the cast of one’s dreams, it is a good one, where a sense of teamwork is palpable. I have particular fondness for Carmela Remigio’s Anna – especially because she is Italian. The spontaneity of her tone and ease with technical minutiae is praiseworthy and the voice is even more rounded than with Abbado and  copes commendably with the very fast Or sai chi l’onore (the only moment where I the pace is undeniably too fast). Véronique Gens seems to be trying to prove that she is worth while being recorded once again as Elvira. One has the impression she is trying zillions of possibilities, without quite focusing what she wants to do. In Ah, chi mi dice mai she verges on affectation, but becomes less exaggerated later. Her Mi tradì is particularly smooth. In any case, I still prefer her more consistent performance for Malgoire. At first, I thought Lisa Larsson to be disappointing – the voice lacks tone and spreads too much- but later she ended on convincing me due to her exceptional fluency in Italian and creativity. Her Zerlina is definitely not cute, but earthy, sensuous and naughty. Mark Padmore also lacks body and relies too much on head voice (when he tries to sing out, the result is a bit tense). Peter Mattei has a winsome baritone and natural charisma. His recitatives are excellent and he phrases with utmost accuracy and imagination. He survives beautifully the zipping tempo for the Champagne aria, but his mezza voce in the serenade is too dim. On the other hand, Gilles Cachemaille’s is really past his best here. It is a serious blemish in the set, because, when the Leporello is so uninteresting, the whole performance looses a great deal of excitement. The Masetto lacks focus as well and the Commendatore proves to be too light-voiced.

ALAIN LOMBARD, 1998
Patrizia Pace (Anna), Michèle Lagrange (Elvira), Liliana Nikiteanu (Zerlina), Domenico Ghegghi (Ottavio), Boris Martinovich (Giovanni), Marcos Fink (Leporello), Davide Baronchelli (Masetto), Anatoli Kotscherga (Commendatore), Coro della Radio Svizera, Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Alain Lombard

Alain Lombard’s studio recording for Forlane is one of these hard-to-frame releases: the tempi are slow, but the orchestra playing is not heavy; the conductor tries to give each phrase dramatic purpose, but the lack of forward movement and crispness makes it all pointless and often boring; there is keenness on theatricality in the way singers deliver their recitatives, but they are almost all of them miscast and fail to create the right musical-dramatic effect. Although this approach will always remain a hard-sell, maybe exceptional vocal and orchestral forces could make it happen. In any case, the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana does a commendable job here. Patrizia Pace appears twice in this discography as Zerlina and a light-toned one, and her promotion to Donna Anna does not sound very promising. Indeed, she is operating close to her limits and sometimes beyond, has many moments of strain, constriction, poor intonation and shrillness. Especially, in Non mi dir, when Lombard makes everything to undermine her singing. That said, she never shies before any challenge and tackles everything Mozart requires from her without ever looking back and still proves that she has a dramatic temper. Out of her hard work, she manages to create a flawed yet intriguing performance. Michèle Lagrange too has a flashing temper and the vocal nature to shine in the role of Elvira, but she has erratic technique, the kind of impetuosity that sound really like awkwardness and her Italian leaves something to be desired. The young Liliana Nikiteanu has a pleasant, fruity voice, but falls in all traps that justify the mezzos-forbidden golden rule for the role of Zerlina. Domenico Gheghi seems to be one of those natural talents who make do with instinctive musicianship but without solid schooling. The microphone, however, is not kind to his voice and he seems to have a different placement for every vowel and for every register of his voice. Boris Martinovich, then an upcoming name in France, is an engaged and varied Don Giovanni, albeit one with an essentially non-Mozartian voice. Marcos Fink is the most successful singer in this cast – the role is high for his voice and he is sometimes tiptoeing in his upper range, but his bass is pleasant on the ears and he is 100% stylish, not to mention that he knows how to be funny without exaggeration. Anatoli Kotscherga too is a non-Mozartian singing, but this is his less problematic account of the role of the Commendatore.

CLAUDIO ABBADO, 1997
Carmela Remigio (Anna), Soile Isokoski (Elvira), Patrizia Pace (Zerlina), Uwe Heilmann (Ottavio), Simon Keenlyside (Giovanni), Bryn Terfel (Leporello), Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Masetto), Matti Salminen (Commendatore), Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Claudio Abbado

Claudio Abbado’s is a performance in which the musical possibilities of Mozart’s score are fully explored. The vertical and horizontal clarity are outstanding and the orchestral playing is excellent. Accordingly, the recorded sound is dry, which allows analytic perspectives. Carmela Remigio is an accomplished Anna and only a sour edge in her forte notes disturbs a beautiful performance, with lovely coloratura and pianissimi. Soile Isokoski is a lyric and sensitive Elvira, the voice reminiscent of Schwarzkopf’s in tone – although the approach is radically different. Patrizia Pace was not in good voice – the tone resembles a boy-soprano (including poor pitch), but the very brightness adds a good effect to ensembles. Unfortunately, Uwe Heilmann was past his best and his singing far from ingratiating. Simon Keenlyside is an commanding Giovanni, with excellent use of the text and idiomatic Italian. As Leporello, Bryn Terfel’s is heavy-handed in expression, but I guess it is better too much than none, and the tone itself is pleasing. And his disguising his voice when dressed as his master is nicely done – only Sesto Bruscantini in the Giulini performance from RAI does it as convincingly as he does here. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo is a positive Masetto and Matti Salminen is a reliable Commendatore as always.

JEAN-CLAUDE MALGOIRE, 1996
Danielle Borst (Anna), Véronique Gens (Elvira), Sophie Marin-Degor (Zerlina), Simon Edwards (Ottavio), Nicolas Rivencq (Giovanni), Hubert Claessens (Leporello), Patrick Donnelly (Masetto /Commendatore), La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy, Jean-Claude Malgoire

Jean-Claude Malgoire’s conducting has its similarities with Östman’s (see below), but the approach is rougher-edged and more intimate. In its alertness, it offers indeed a quite fresh perspective of the score. The cast is more theatrical than in Drottningholm as well. Danielle Borst is a lyric, tender Anna, Véronique Gens a fully commited and warm-toned Elvira, Sophie-Marin Degor a tough yet sweet-toned Zerlina, Simon Edwards an accomplished Ottavio and Nicolas Rivencq is a light charming Giovanni, who makes most of his recitatives. Unfortunately, Huub Claessens and Harry van der Kamp are too dry and white-toned for comfort. The recorded sound is immediate but CD2 has a different sound perspective.

GEORG SOLTI, 1996
Renée Fleming (Anna), Ann Murray (Elvira), Monica Groop (Zerlina), Herbert Lippert (Ottavio), Bryn Terfel (Giovanni), Michele Pertusi (Leporello), Roberto Scaltriti (Masetto), Mario Luperi (Commendatore), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Georg Solti

It is particularly admirable that, in his second recording, Georg Solti developed a more consequent sense of drama and musical structure. His tempi are more fluent and incisive than in his previous recordings and his understanding of Mozartian style is more accurate. One could think he had listened to Östman’s recording before the rehearsals of this performance… Both act finali are particularly gripping in their rhythmic alertness and sound impact. The orchestral effects in the closing scene are particularly impressive… Alas, although his cast is starry as in his previous studio recording, it is altogether less distinguished too. Renée Fleming was already in her jazzy days when she recorded her Donna Anna. So be prepared to sliding, scooping and other mannerisms. Sometimes her high mezza voce effects sound wiry and calculated. It must be acknowledged that she offers a fine stretta for Non mi dir, sung a tempo, despite some minor blurring. Ann Murray brings a flashing personality and knowledge of Mozartian style. It is a pity her forceful Elvira involves an overvibrant and often stressed top register. Monica Groop mezzo is pleasant on the ear and her top notes are comfortable and appealing, but she is a bit austere as Zerlina. Herbert Lippert is also unexceptional as Ottavio. Of course Bryn Terfel’s tone is more than attractive enough for Don Giovanni – a rich powerful bass-baritone. However, the Welsh singer’s mannerisms, especially whimsical shifting from abrupt forte to semi-falsetto piano, are really bothersome. As Leporello, Michele Pertusi is admirably Italianate. The tone is pleasant and dark if a bit bottled and unflowing, especially in the high register. Finally, Mario Luperi is a rough-toned but powerful Commendatore

YAKOV KREIZBERG, 1995
Hillevi Martinpelto (Anna), Adrianne Pieczonka (Elvira), Juliane Banse (Zerlina), John Mark Ainsley (Ottavio), Gilles Cachemaille (Giovanni), Steven Page (Leporello), Roberto Scaltriti (Masetto), Gudjon Oskarsson (Commendatore), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Yakov Kreizberg

Although Deborah Wagner’s production for Glyndenbourne is controversial – settings and props are reducted to basics (a wood platform and curtains) – it looks elegant enough. More than that: the director certainly knows how to create truly theatrical interaction between the members of the cast, who respond beautifully all of them to her interesting ideas. Conductor Yakov Kreizberg goes for a white-heat performance – ballistic tempi, zipping articulation, absolute clarity and strong accents to highlight dramatic situations. He is often too inflexible, leaving his cast in difficult situations, especially in the act I finale. Some singers, understandably, get a bit behind the beat now and then, such as in the impossibly fast Champagne Aria. The orchestral playing is superb, but the recorded sound is variable, excessively favourable for the orchestra and in moments such as Non sperar se non m’uccidi it is difficult to hear the singers at all. Hillevi Martinpelto’s exquisite light-toned Anna is entirely successful. She sings with grace, poise and absolute notion of Mozartian style, offering a memorable Non mi dir. Adrianne Pieczonka is an incisive firm-toned Elvira, a bit short on the lower end of her voice, but still dependable and pleasant. Juliane Banse’s shimmery floating voice is the perfect sound for her sweet charming Zerlina. John Mark Ainsley has his strained moments, but is capable of true finesse and has amazingly clear divisions. Gilles Cachemaille lacks tone for Don Giovanni and is a bit erratic in his phrasing, but is able to mellow and produce honeyed tone when necessary. The direction keeps him overbusy and sometimes this stands between him and faultless vocalisation. Steven Page is a rock-solid Leporello, amazingly idiomatic and animated. Roberto Scaltriti is similarly a positive Masetto, and Gudjon Oskarsson was in far better voice than he would be for Daniel Harding – a forceful performance.

CHARLES MACKERRAS, 1995
Christine Brewer (Anna), Felicity Lott ((Elvira), Nuccia Focile (Zerlina), Jerry Hadley (Ottavio), Boje Skovhus (Giovanni), Alessandro Corbelli (Leporello), Umberto Chiummo (Masetto/Commendatore), Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, Charles MacKerras

Charles Mackerras’s recording offers not only fine musical understanding and clarity, but also a strong feeling for theatre. There is a palpable sense of team work and the dramatic coherence generally associated to live performances. The woodwind are perfectly recorded and add an extra dimension to harmonic perception. Christine Brewer’s voice is atypical for Anna – her big, smoky soprano takes surprisingly easily to legato, coloratura and mezza voce. Felicity Lott is on the light side for Elvira, but her dramatic intelligence and musical sophistication redeem the voice. Zerlina is Nuccia Focile’s best try in Mozartian repertoire. It is a bit more positive than usual and her native Italian is always welcome. Boje Skovhus is an intelligent, vocally varied Don Giovanni, even if his acquaintance with the language of Dante is minimal. Alessandro Corbelli is a most animated Leporello and his interpretative flair makes for a tonally unappealing voice. Umberto Chiummo is a most competent Commendatore and Masetto. His portrayal of each role is so specific that we barely notice it is the same singer. Unfortunately, Jerry Hadley is unstylish and ill-at-ease as Ottavio.

SIGISWALD KUIJKEN, 1995
Elena Vink (Anna), Christina Högmann (Elvira), Nancy Argenta (Zerlina), Markus Schäfer (Ottavio), Werner Van Mechelen (Giovanni), Hubert Claessens (Leporello), Nanco de Vries (Masetto), Harry van der Kamp (Commendatore), Collegium Compostellanum, La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kuijken

If one has in mind Sigiswald Kuijken’s charming Così, one is bound to be really disappointing by his bureaucratic recording of Don Giovanni. There is an unacceptable lack of atmosphere, although it has been recorded live. Tempi tend to be fast, but, devoid of dramatic intent, they sound only hurried. The cast is consistently uninteresting, with the exception of Nancy Argenta’s charming Zerlina. Christina Högman’s Elvira is not bad, but without Mi Tradì (this is the Prague version), she has less opportunity to show what she can really do.

ELISABETTA MASCHIO, 1995
Michela Remor (Anna), Alice Forgiero (Elvira), Silvia Tro Santafé (Zerlina), Bruno Lazzaretti (Ottavio), Umberto Chiummo (Don Giovanni), Andrea Concetti (Leporello), Massimiliano Gagliardo (Masetto), Michele Bianchini (Commendatore), Corale L. Canepa di Sassari, Orchestra Giovanile della Sardegna, Elisabetta Maschio

Elisabetta Maschio has a curious name for the only female conductor in this discography. Maybe that is the reason why she is the only person portrayed in the CD cover and in the booklet – always with her baton on hand. The live recording from Sardinia couldn’t be less competitive – the chorus is amateurish, the orchestra is really below standard and the casting is problematic. The fact that this been released internationally instead of a being found exclusively in the souvenir store in Sassari’s Teatro Verdi is a mystery to me. However, I have to confess that listening to it was far more fun than I would have imagined. La Maschio (this sounds weird…) has a fondness for very fast tempi, bright sonorities, incisive accents and clarity over beauty. This goes dangerously close to messy and hectic, but one has to concede that she has amazing acuity of purpose and also sense of overall structure. Even if her musicians are holding for dear life under her strict beat, bumpy passages abounding, the excitement is palpable, the performance sparkles in its roughness and imperfection. One can only imagine what she would have done with forces up to the task. The then provincial cast has singers that would later develop international careers, but those who haven’t don’t make you feel like listening to the CDs a second time. Michaela Remor has a big, metallic voice and is dramatically engaged, but subtlety is beyond her possibilities. Non mi dir is here rather a matter of willpower. The less we say about the Donna Elvira the better. The young Silvia Tro Santafé challenges the “mezzos forbidden”rule for Zerlina by the dexterity with which she handles everything Mozart wrote for her. Her singing remains nevertheless unconvincing – the tone lacks charm and she tackles her lines with very little affection. Bruno Lazzaretti is dying to sing Donizetti and is far from an example of classical poise, but the Italianate naturalness of tone and the fervor make his Don Ottavio a bit higher in testosterone than usual. Umberto Chiummo, who appeared both as Masetto and the Commendatore for Mackerras the same year this was recorded, is a presentable Don Giovanni who relishes the conductor’s high-octane approach. By the end of the evening, he sounds increasingly tired though. Andrea Concetti is clearly the best singer in the cast – his Leporello is likeable, the tone is firm and pleasant, he is characterful without exaggeration and, even if he has his share of rough moments, he uses that in his favor.

JOHN ELIOT GARDINER, 1993
Luba Orgonasová (Anna), Charlotte Margiono (Elvira), Eirian James (Zerlina), Cristoph Prégardien (Ottavio), Rodney Gilfry (Giovanni), Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Leporello), Julian Clarkson (Masetto), Andrea Silvestrelli (Commendatore), The Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Elliot Gardiner

John Eliot Gardiner’s Don Giovanni is so animated and intelligent as a performance that it ends on being irresistible, even for those who usually dislike Gardiner. The orchestra is at its best and the closing scene is one of the most exciting ever recorded. The recorded sound is outstanding for a live performance and the audience is unbelievably silent. Luba Orgonasová’s Anna is very aristocratic and sung in rich tone. Although her coloratura is not as clear as Edita Gruberová’s, she shares with her the ability of singing everything a tempo, no matter how fast the beat is. Charlotte Margiono is a lyric smoky-voiced Elvira, more tender than usual. Cristoph Prégardien’s Ottavio is delightful. It has a serene stern quality that makes us believe when he says that Anna can see a father in him. Rodney Gilfry is the complete charmer. His Giovanni is so congenial that one cannot help liking him and regretting his going to hell (unless you believe hell is actually fun…). It is a seductive portrait, and his serenade is the best in the discography. Also, Andrea Silvestrelli’s Commendatore is simply frightening. He is the darkest bass you will find in this part. Ildebrando d’Arcangello and Eirian James offer reliable performances as Leporello and Zerlina.

ROGER NORRINGTON, 1992
Amanda Halgrimson (Anna), Lynne Dawson (Elvira), Nancy Argenta (Zerlina), John Mark Ainsley (Ottavio), Andreas Schmidt (Giovanni), Gregory Yurisic (Leporello), Gerald Finlay (Masetto), Alastair Miles (Commendatore), London Classical Players, Roger Norrington

Roger Norrington’s recording features a most accomplished performance in which the listener has the sensation that everything simply sounds rightly. His period-instrument orchestra is unusually full-toned and there is sense of theatre in its playing, sometimes more than in the the pleasant cast here gathered. Amanda Halgrimson is a most competent Anna, Nancy Argenta is again a lovely Zerlina, John Mark Ainsley is a light flexible Ottavio, but it is the partnership of the virile Giovanni of Andreas Schmidt and the animated Leporello of the rich-voiced Gregory Yurisic the vital element of this performance. Alastair Miles is a strong Commendatore, but Lynne Dawson is on the light side for Elvira. A reliable choice in period instruments.

DANIEL BARENBOIM, 1991
Lella Cuberli (Anna), Waltraud Meier (Elvira), Joan Rodgers (Zerlina), Uwe Heilmann (Ottavio), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Giovanni), John Tomlinson (Leporello), Michele Pertusi (Masetto), Matti Salminen (Commendatore), RIAS Kammerchor, Berliner Philharmoniker, Daniel Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim’s recording could be treated as an aberration. It is difficult to understand why Erato decided to support the idea of recording a new “Furtwängler” Don Giovanni in 1991. Worse than that: you will not here find either the sense of occasion or the legendary casting of that old recording. Lella Cuberli’s tone lacks poise and elegance, Waltraud Meier is miscast as Elvira and Joan Rodgers is uninteresting as Zerlina. Uwe Heilmann is a pleasant Ottavio if completely out of the context here. Ferruccio Furlanetto indulges in some rough singing as if he were performing it live and not in the studio. John Tomlinson is heavy beyond salvation as Leporello, even if his experience in Handel prevents him from being completely unstylish. Michele Pertusi is an interesting Masetto and Matti Salminen is, as always, a competent Commendatore.

JAMES CONLON, 1991
Carolyn James (Anna), Carol Vaness (Elvira), Andrea Rost (Zerlina), Kiell Magnus Sandve (Ottavio), Thomas Allen (Giovanni), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), Reinhard Dorn (Masetto), Matthias Hölle (Commendatore), Gürzenich Orchester Köln, James Conlon

Michael Hampe’s production has previously been featured on video in Salzburg and makes a second appearance in Cologne, with James Conlon conducting. The smaller stage is certainly helpful, but the absence of audience and the extra lighting spoil the charm and the fun. If the orchestra had been less dimly recorded, it would certainly be one of the less problematic Don Giovannis on video in the market. The conductor gives a vivid account of the score, with prominent woodwind – only loosing his way when rhythms are less obvious. In these moments, things do get pointless. Ensemble should be more polished too. Carolyn James has a good voice for Donna Anna – big, high and full. She has limitations to produce mezza voce, resulting unfocused tone, and her coloratura is far less than sensational. Carol Vaness is the most impressive member of the cast, offering rich warm tone and a vivid temperament. Andrea Rost’s bright soprano sometimes becomes too metallic and her tonal palette is limited, but she consistently produces a clean line. Kjell Magnus Sandve’s throaty tenor is foreign to Mozartian style. Don Giovanni does not seem a good role for Thomas Allen live in the theatre. In the Muti set, he gets hoarse in the first act. Here, only in second act his problem with low notes begin to appear and mar an interesting performance. Ferruccio Furlanetto remains an excellent Leporello. Last but not least, Matthias Hölle was in great shape here, fully satisfying as the Commendatore.

RICCARDO MUTI, 1990
Cheryl Studer (Anna), Carol Vaness (Elvira), Suzanne Mentzer (Zerlina), Frank Lopardo (Ottavio), William Shimmel (Giovanni), Samuel Ramey (Leporello), Natale de Carolis (Masetto), Jan-Hendrik Rootering (Commendatore), Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Riccardo Muti

Riccardo Muti’s Mozart opera recordings are always on my list of good performances, but he succumbs to the old problem with “traditional” conductors – that Don Giovanni is a proto-romantic work, a pre-Beethovenian attempt in Musikdrama. That result is that, whenever Muti thinks that some particular moment is a serious one, the result is really heavy handed. The overture is an example – the opening bars are overinflected, overkilled and last forever. When we get to the most animated section, then we have the usual Muti, with thoroughly articulated phrasing, animated atmosphere and well-judged tempi. This discrepancy is going to appear in the whole recording and the final impression is that the expressive range of this performance is narrower than it should be. The natural and subtle chiaroscuro of dramma giocoso fares really better without the Beethovenian make-up. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is stylish and flexible as always,  but one wishes that the recording had a more immediate and natural atmosphere, exactly as one would find in the Vienna State Opera. Although the group of singers gather here is individually interesting, they do not form a coherent cast. Their voices and styles are sometimes too different for ensemble – but the main problem is that one feels that they were assembled for a studio recording and little effort had been made to create dramatic cohesion. Donna Anna is probably the best suited of Mozartian roles for Cheryl Studer. She is an admirable artist, but one cannot help noticing that she is constantly scaling down in this repertoire, producing somewhat flaccid phrasing and under the note attack. She is nonetheless an appealing Anna, with her Viennese vocal production, engaged phrasing, powerful top notes and flexibility. I wish she did not try to be the archetypal furious Anna and adopted instead a more lyric approach, such as Arleen Augér’s or Luba Orgonasová’s – this would have suited her voice better. Carol Vaness had been singing the role of Anna for a while with relative success, but here is showing that she has an Elvira in her too. I think that this “transition” could not be better advised, since I have always found her Anna rather Verdian in scale. Her voice is in beautiful shape here – warm, creamy and she is more willing to sing softly than usual I would have appreciated more verbal pointing, without which Elvira sounds a bit generic and uninteresting. The idea of casting Zerlina with a mezzo soprano always sounded problematic to me, unless she is a bright-voiced, stylish and sexy-toned singer such as Teresa Berganza. That is not the case here – Suzanne Mentzer sounds lugubrious next to the other female singers and it is very hard to find why Giovanni would be interested in such a sparkless Zerlina.  The casting of Frank Lopardo as Ottavio proved to be disappointing too. His voice was never beautiful, but his outstanding coloratura skills generally compensate. Here, not even his flexibility can outshine his unstylish phrasing and absence of ideas about this role (which naturally tends to blandness). William Shimmell’s Giovanni lacks finish as a whole. Samuel Ramey could be said to outclass all his colleagues due to his good taste, notion of style and virtuoso qualities – but he does not. One really feels that Giovanni, and not Leporello, is his role. Despite his best intentions, he sounds too grand and commanding for the servant’s role.

NEVILLE MARRINER, 1990
Sharon Sweet (Anna), Karita Mattila (Elvira), Marie McLaughlin (Zerlina), Francisco Araiza (Ottavio), Thomas Allen (Giovanni), Simone Alaimo (Leporello), Claudio Otelli (Masetto), Robert Lloyd (Commendatore), Ambrosian Opera Chorus, Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner

Thomas Allen’s Don Juan made a second visit to the British recording studios in Neville Marriner’s series of Da Ponte operas. As in the other releases from the same forces, the orchestral playing and recorded sound are excellent and the conductor’s general grasp of Mozartian style is beyond criticism. However, I tend to differ from most reviewers ad consider this Marriner’s best Mozartian opera recording. Here the proceedings are notably more theatrical and animated. The chiaroscuro which marks this score is sensitively drawn scene after scene and even within each scene. The dramatic commitment of every member in the cast plays an important part in it, especially when recitatives are done in such an organic and theatrical way. Listening to Sharon Sweet’s Donna Anna, one cannot cease to regret that such a promising singer would eventually go astray in such a woeful manner. Here she is at her youthful best – offering warm big creamy sounds from bottom to top. For such a large-voiced singer, her Non mi dir is reasonably fluent and her ease with mezza voce and clear diction are also strong assets. Karita Mattila is similarly a large-scale Elvira, singing her Italian words with fiery temper and velvety tone. In her big aria, she has one or two untidy moments, but her full-toned approach is certainly impressive. Marie McLaughlin uses her suntanned soprano to create a Sophia Loren-like sexy, strong and earthy Zerlina. Francisco Araiza did sound smoother in other Mozart recordings, but the occasional roughness does build into his macho approach to Don Ottavio. Experienced from his Rossini performances, Simone Alaimo has complete know-how in the buffo repertoire of tricks. Now and then one would expect more earnest vocalization, but this is easily overcome considering this singer’s intelligent sense of humour. His interplaying with Thomas Allen is also most efficient – the British singer as idiomatic as his Italian colleague. Robert Lloyd is an intense dark Commendatore. A safe buy.

NEEME JÄRVI, 1990
Sona Ghazarian (Anna), Gertrud Ottenthal (Elvira), Patrizia Pace (Zerlina), Giuseppe Sabbatini (Ottavio), Renato Bruson (Giovanni), Nicola Ghiuselev (Leporello), Stefano Rinaldi-Miliani (Masetto), Franco de Grandis (Commendatore), Kölner Rundfunkchor, Kölner Runfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester, Neeme Järvi

Although Chandos informs us that these CDs have been recorded in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk studios, the amount of mistakes and “stage” noises suggest that this has been actually recorded in concert in that venue. One needs only five minutes to realize that Mozart is not really Neeme Järvi’s repertoire: the orchestra has poor articulation, balance between sections is precarious, accents are flaccid, tempi are sluggish until they suddenly become mysteriously fast in both finali and there is no sense of theatre here to speak of. The only reason I can figure out for this release is the performance of Renato Bruson in the title role. As far as I know, this is the Italian baritone’s only official release in any Mozart opera and, judging by what he did here, it is a pity that he could not record it in a better occasion. First of all, listening to his singing I could not help realizing how this part sounds far more demanding when sung without “acting with the voice” to screen poor discipline. Second, although the circumstances not inspire true dramatic engagement, Bruson is alert to every word in a text that he delivers in crispy native Italian. Third, although he could have offered something even more impressive some years before, he was still in his prime here, firm-toned in all dynamic ranges (and he can preside over an ensemble in a way that makes some passages sound entirely new). Even if Giuseppe Sabbatini has his tight moments, his tenor is pleasant in tone, long in breath, flexible in fioriture, ductile in shading and graceful in phrasing. His accomplishments far outnumber his drawbacks and one ultimately listens more readily to him than to some famous tenors who have taken this role. Patrizia Pace’s doll-like soprano suggest singers from a previous generation: she has one single very bright color, pecks at notes and is often sharp. In compensation, she has some imagination, uses her native Italian to good effect and deals with the low tessitura commendably. In any case, she is far preferable here than she would be for Abbado. Another Italian contribution to this recording is Franco de Grandis’s forceful Commendatore. It was not nature’s decision to make Sona Gazharian a Donna Anna. Her voice is small for the role and sounds often hard pressed and pinched. Intonation is often approximative and there are some strange sounds being produced here. Curiously, when things get very difficult, she can surprise you by singing a high note piano or producing ornaments a tempo, but not always. It is most unfortunate that nature had indeed given Gertrud Ottenthal a voice to sing Donna Elvira, for she does not really have the technique to sing either low or high notes. Nicola Ghiuselev’s Leporello can be testing: the tonal quality is avuncular, the sound is the opposite of appealing, he tries to be funny in all wrong ways and he has more blunders than anyone else.

ARNOLD ÖSTMAN, 1989
Arleen Augér (Anna), Della Jones (Elvira), Barbara Bonney (Zerlina), Nico van der Meer (Ottavio), Håkan Hagegård (Giovanni), Gilles Cachemaille (Leporello), Bryn Terfel (Masetto), Kristinn Sigmundsson (Commendatore), Drottningholm Court Theatre Chorus and Orchestra, Arnold Östman

Arnold Östman’s performance is full of insight and understanding of Mozartian phraseology – it is quite unique sometimes, but the period-instrument orchestra is unfortunately too light-toned to produce the right effect in this music. Even if almost none of these singers are truly exemplary, they make a particularly stylish cast that took the risk of to be faithful to the classical concept of characterization, even if sometimes this does not appeal to contemporary taste. The most notable example is Della Jones’s Elvira, who is thoroughly mezzo carattere, sounding a bit too comical for today’s concept of the role. Arleen Augér is a light noble Anna, Barbara Bonney is a pure-toned and innocent-sounding Zerlina, Håkan Hagegård an aggressive Giovanni who knows to scale down to velvety mezza voce when seducting his “victims” and Gilles Cachemaille is an animated if a bitter dry-toned Leporello. Kristinn Sigmundsson is a reliable Commendatore, but Nico van der Meer’s approach is too oratorio-like for comfort.

CRAIG SMITH, 1989
Dominique Labelle (Anna), Lorraine Hunt (Elvira), Ai Lan Zhu (Zerlina), Carroll Freeman (Ottavio), Eugene Perry (Giovanni), Herbert Perry (Leporello), Elmore James (Masetto), James Patterson (Commendatore), Arnold-Schönberg-Chor, Wiener Symphoniker, Craig Smith

Alternative by definition is Peter Sellars’ film of Don Giovanni based on his stagings at the Pepsico Festival in New York. This is by far the most interesting among Sellars’ DVDs of the Da Ponte operas, featuring striking sceneries and the best cast in the series. Also, probably because this is less comical an opera than Così and Nozze, the rate of ludicrously coreographied scenes is comparatively reduced. Craig Smith’s conducting is kapellmeisterlich and frankly dull both in the overture and the closing scene, but the excellent playing from the Vienna Symphonic added by a full yet clear recorded sound help to keep interest going. The edition here chosen tends to adopt some alternatives from the Viennese edition, such as the inclusion of the razor duet for Zerlina and Leporello and the finale ultimo without Anna and Ottavio’s duet. Dominique Labelle is a light-toned Donna Anna who deals adeptly with florid writing and retains tonal quality in the most dramatic passages. Some high-lying phrases sound a bit wiry, though. Lorraine Hunt is an intense Donna Elvira who knows how to use the occasional strain for dramatic purposes. She adapts one phrase to fit her range, however, in Restati, barbaro. Ai Lan Zhu’s Zerlina is artless and creamy toned, but lacks some sensuousness. Carroll Freeman is strained as Don Ottavio and has problems with pitch. Since the singers taking the roles of Don Giovanni and Leporello are identical twins, it is curious to notice the similarity of their voices. However, Herbert Perry’s tone is more focused and his phrasing smoother than his brother Eugene’s – and that fits the fact that Giovanni is supposed to be the let-it-all-out one. Elmore James is successful to produce a “stolid” voice for a stolid guy, but James Patterson sounds a bit woolly as the Commendatore.

NIKOLAUS HARNONCOURT, 1988
Edita Gruberová (Anna), Roberta Alexander (Elvira), Barbara Bonney (Zerlina), Hans-Peter Blochwitz (Ottavio), Thomas Hampson (Giovanni), Lászlo Polgár (Leporello), Anton Scharinger (Masetto), Robert Holl (Commendatore), Nederlands Operakoor, Concertgebouw Orkest, Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Nikolaus Harnoncourt seems to trust the expressive power of accents and phrasing rather than speeds. Some of his tempi are actually slow – but, whenever that happens, endearing details appear most of the time. I particularly appreciate the perfect balance obtained here – although the conductor is determined to prove that Mozart is everything but cute, he is able to do that within the limits of Classical style. His cast is irregular if dramatically concerned. Edita Gruberová’s is an Anna different from all the others – a rather straightforward lady: she loves her fiancé, is outraged by Giovanni and is more ashamed than revengeful. Her voice fits admirably Mozart’s writing and no other soprano is so at ease with what she has to sing. For the first time in the discography, Non mi dir sounds like any other aria. Roberta Alexander is an impassionate Elvira and her voice is beautiful, but her technique fails now and then, especially in Mi Tradì. Barbara Bonney is heavenly as Zerlina, more than she would be for Arnold Östman. Hans-Peter Blochwitz was not in his best voice: it is a bit hard and short in breath here. In any case, his Ottavio is not as whimpering as usual. Thomas Hampson’s Don Giovanni is admirable, rather in the style of Eberhard Wächter – there is nothing cute about his character. Robert Holl is a light and very effective Commendatore, but Laszlo Polgár’s voice is a bit on the white side as Leporello. I would also prefer if there was not that clear gap between tracks.

RICCARDO MUTI, 1987
Edita Gruberová (Anna), Ann Murray (Elvira), Suzanne Mentzer (Zerlina), Francisco Araiza (Ottavio), Thomas Allen (Giovanni), Claudio Desderi (Leporello), Natale de Carolis (Masetto), Sergei Kloptschak (Commendatore), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Milano, Riccardo Muti

There is not one exemplary video of Don Giovanni – and Riccardo Muti’s from La Scala is no exception. Again, the approach is heavy-handed. To make things worse, the orchestral playing lacks zest and the recorded sound is too favourable to singers. In theory, there is a good cast, although most unfortunately Thomas Allen, a famous Giovanni, looses his voice in the middle of Act 1. Claudio Desderi is a vocally unexceptional if animated Leporello. Also, Suzanne Mentzer is quite unappealing (vocally-speaking – she looks very well otherwise) as Zerlina and her Masetto is far from effective. The performance’s saving graces are Edita Gruberová’s virtuosistic Anna, Francisco Araiza’s strong Ottavio and Ann Murray’s passionate Elvira. Their trio is one of the most beautiful you are going to hear. Giorgio Strehler’s staging is elegant if unexceptional, and everybody but Allen and Murray is not really strong in the acting skills department.

HERBERT VON KARAJAN, 1987
Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Anna), Julia Varady (Elvira), Kathleen Battle (Zerlina), Gösta Winbergh (Ottavio), Samuel Ramey (Giovanni), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), Alexander Malta (Masetto), Paata Burchuladze (Commendatore), Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

When Karajan premièred his Don Giovanni in Salzburg, Agnes Baltsa had already left the production, being replaced by Julia Varady, who is bright toned and powerful enough, although her diction leaves a lot to be desired. Michael Hampe’s production is elegant in its cold colours and provides some original scenic ideas – Ferruccio Furlanetto and Samuel Ramey, outstanding in their stage performances. Kathleen Battle and Alexander Malta also work very well as Zerlina and Masetto, while the Ottavio, Anna and Elvira center around looking dignified and outraged. Swapping the Berliner for the Wiener Philharmoniker makes for clearer articulation. Finally, Sony offers what DG could not: decent recorded sound.

HERBERT VON KARAJAN, 1985
Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Anna), Agnes Baltsa (Elvira), Kathleen Battle (Zerlina), Gösta Winbergh (Ottavio), Samuel Ramey (Giovanni), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), Alexander Malta (Masetto), Paata Burchuladze (Commendatore), Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

Herbert von Karajan’s studio recording is one of the most problematic in the discography. The thunderous orchestra is unclear and the artifficial recording makes things even more tangled. Also, slow uninflected tempi make the whole experience even more unfocused. Anna Tomowa-Sintow is an unacceptable Donna Anna, singing with metallic tone marred by a fierce vibrato that makes the slightest passagework imprecise. Agnes Baltsa is also in a role unfit for her voice and offers an un-Mozartian but impassioned Donna Elvira, with some very powerful top notes and forceful coloratura. Kathleen Battle is a light charming Zerlina, singing affectively and making the best of dramatic situations. Gösta Winbergh is a noble Ottavio, phrasing with good taste and sense of style. Samuel Ramey certainly offers a splendid voice, flexible and rich over a large range if lacking variety. Ferruccio Furlanetto is a vivacious and full toned Leporello, wonderfully idiomatic. Paata Burchuladze’s gigantic Commendatore is certainly impressive. Do not expect clear articulation and diction, though.

RAFAEL KUBELIK, 1985
Julia Varady (Anna), Arleen Augér (Elvira), Edith Mathis (Zerlina), Thomas Moser (Ottavio), Alan Titus (Giovanni), Rolando Panerai (Leporello), Rainer Scholtze (Masetto), Jan-Hendrik Rootering (Commendatore), Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonie Orchester und Chor, Rafael Kubelik

Rafael Kubelik’s recording is quite hard to frame. Although it is on paper a traditional performance, its atmosphere of elegance and transcedent beauty makes it sui generis in an almost Straussian way. It would be an alternative view of the work, if it offered something more theatrical. The orchestra has transparent enough sound and the recording is quite clear. Julia Varady is an accomplished if dramatically blank Anna. On the other hand, Arleen Augér is in animated mood for Elvira. The only thing between her and complete success being the lightness of her voice in the more outpoken moments. By 1985, Edith Mathis’s Zerlina has grown quite austere, but it is still appealing Mozartian singing. Although Thomas Moser’s tone is very beautiful, his Ottavio is not completely at ease – vocally and dramatically. Alan Titus offers an attractively vocalized Don Giovanni and has the necessary appeal to call attention to himself in such a distinguished cast. Moreover, the contrast to Rolando Panerai’s rustic Leporello is telling. Jan-Hendrik Rootering is soft-centered for the Commendatore, though.

BERNARD HAITINK, 1984
Carol Vaness (Anna), Maria Ewing (Elvira), Elizabeth Gale (Zerlina), Keith Lewis (Ottavio), Thomas Allen (Giovanni), Richard van Allan (Leporello), Dale Duesing (Masetto), Dmitri Kavrakos (Commendatore), Glyndenbourne Chorus, London Philharmonic, Bernard Haitink

Bernard Haitink’s recording abounds in beautiful and clear orchestral sound. There is not one note in the score that one could not easily find in the clear textures produced by the London Philharmonic, in one of its best recorded Mozart performances. Although the overall result is certainly charming, it may also sound calculated and lacking variety. In the end, it all sounds like polite entertainment offered by a highly skilled group of artists. Carol Vaness’s rich soprano has no problem to comply with the difficult writing reserved to Donna Anna, but her approach is rather generalized. This is particularly problematic when Maria Ewing, in excellent voice, offers such an intensely dramatic Elvira. Not only is her Italian particularly convincing, but also she invest her lines with rare passion. Elizabeth Gale’s fruity Zerlina is a charmer. Keith Lewis is a pleasant Octavio, not particularly animated or vocally exciting. Richard Van Allan is an interesting Leporello, the rough patches in the voice making for a rather rustic character, but Dmitri Kavrakos is a bit ungainly as the Commendatore. However, it is Thomas Allen who dominates the performance, with his thorough sense of Mozartian style, firmness and beauty of tone and dramatic commitment – he also offers the scariest shouting in the discography when falling into the flames of hell.

LORIN MAAZEL, 1979
Edda Moser (Anna), Kiri Te Kanawa (Elvira), Teresa Berganza (Zerlina), Kenneth Riegel (Ottavio), Ruggero Raimondi (Giovanni), José van Dam (Leporello), Malcolm King (Masetto), John Macurdy (Commendatore), Choeur de l’Opéra de Paris, Orchestre de Paris, Lorin Maazel

Maybe because this is the soundtrack to Joseph Losey film’s, there is a real sense of urgency in Lorin Maazel’s performance that follows closely the dramatic action as shown in the movie. The images are quite beautiful and benefit from transposing the setting to Venice, but there whole atmosphere is too characteristic of the 1970’s to avoid the label “kitsch”. Although the orchestral playing is good, the resonant recoustics are not very helpful. Edda Moser has all the elements of a great Anna, but it seems they are not under complete control. This time Kiri Te Kanawa is a fully satisfying Elvira, in the manner of Zylis-Gara, but technically more acoomplished. Teresa Berganza is the exception to the “mezzos forbidden” rule in the role of Zerlina. She is extremely charming and bright-toned. Kenneth Riegel is hard voiced as Ottavio and not completely inside this Mozartian atmosphere. Ruggero Raimondi is a magnetic Don Giovanni – in very good voice. He has a fully developed sense of his character as one can see in the film. José van Dam, against my expectations, is an excellent Leporello. At first, one might find him too “noble” for the role, but he makes a virtue of his beauty of tone and is fully commited. Malcolm King is a reliable Masetto and John Macurdy, in studio, is an efficient Commendatore.

ARNOLD ÖSTMAN, 1979
Helena Döse (Anna), Birgit Nordin (Elvira), Anita Soldh (Zerlina), Gösta Winbergh (Ottavio), Håkan Hagegård (Giovanni), Erik Saeden (Leporello), Tord Wallström (Masetto), Bengt Rundgren (Commendatore), Drottningholm Court Theatre Chorus and Orchestra, Arnold Östman

Arnold Östman’s video is the most problematic entry in his series of videos from Drottningholm series. The recorded sound, at least in LD, lacks focus and the image is not sharp enough. The orchestral playing is even less compact than on CD and the cast is also less distinguished. Helena Döse is foreign to Mozartian style and Birgid Nordin is too shallow-toned as Elvira. Håkan Hagegård is less focused than in his studio recording, too often not seductive in sound. Only Gösta Winbergh offers some interest in the role of Ottavio. The regulars in Drottnigholm are reliable, if not competitive.

GEORG SOLTI, 1978
Margaret Price (Anna), Sylvia Sass (Elvira), Lucia Popp (Zerlina), Stuart Burrows (Ottavio), Bernd Weikl (Giovanni), Gabriel Bacquier (Leporello), Alfred Sramek (Masetto), Kurt Moll (Commendatore), London Opera Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Georg Solti

Georg Solti’s 1978 recording starts with a dramatic account of the overture only to settle into a rather heavy performance sorely lacking forward movement in the more lyric moments and rather generalized in the most complex passages. The orchestral sound is often too thick for Mozart’s filigree writing and Decca’s recorded sound could also be more natural and clear. Margaret Price is an urgent Donna Anna, noble in her creamy tone and floated pianissimo and also capable of real dramatic impact, such as in the opening scene, when she expresses her character’s desperation as no other soprano in the discography. She tackles a rather fast stretta for her second aria and the result involves some aspiration. Sylvia Sass is not a familiar name in a Mozartian discography, but that did not prevent from offering a compelling performance. Her metallic yet warm tone is an interesting match for Donna Elvira and she finds many an interesting turn of phrase to present a complex and alluring Elvira. It is not immaculate (the tone can get shrill sometimes), but often satisfying. Lucia Popp is an appealing bright rich-toned Zerlina, here given an opportunity to sing her razor duet with Leporello. Although Stuart Burrow’s tone is not as youthful as in Karajan’s recording (see below), it is still a role entirely fit to his voice and temper. Again, one can always marvel at his amazing breath control. Bernd Weikl is an animated Don Giovanni, rough-toned now and then, a character made to sound more imposing than seductive. Gabriel Bacquier is a seasoned Leporello and uses his buffo tricks with flair, but also some exaggeration: off pitch effects included. Kurt Moll is an intense pitch-toned Commendatore.

KARL BÖHM, 1978
Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Anna), Teresa Zylis-Gara (Elvira), Edith Mathis (Zerlina), Peter Schreier (Ottavio), Sherrill Milnes (Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Dale Duesing (Masetto), John Macurdy (Commendatore), Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Karl Böhm

Karl Böhm’s Don Giovanni live from Salzburg is also on the slow side for modern ears and it cannot boast the intelligent theatrical atmosphere built by Klemperer in his otherwise heavier studio recording (see below), paradoxically as it sounds. That said, the Vienna Philharmonic phrases this music to the manner born and Böhm’s transparent and poised conducting still has its charm. The recorded sound gives a good notion of the stage performance and there is a good cast. One who knows Anna Tomowa-Sintow from the Karajan recording will find a completely different singer here. Her voice is almost free of the harshness in the later set and really more flexible. Teresa Zylis-Gara establishes a pattern for the “lyric” approach to Donna Elvira. Although there are a couple of untidy moments, she is in most exquisite voice and sings with affection throughout. Edith Mathis is similarly a less exuberant Zerlina – she is stylish as always, of course. I am less pleased with Peter Schreier’s Ottavio. Although he is quite alert, the tone is hard and his Italian is poor. Sherrill Milnes is a charismatic Don Giovanni and is in great voice, but it is Walter Berry who calls all attentions as Leporello. John Macurdy is a decent Commendatore.

DANIEL BARENBOIM, 1975
Antigone Sgourda (Anna), Heather Harper, (Elvira), Helen Donath (Zerlina), Luigi Alva (Ottavio), Roger Soyer (Giovanni), Geraint Evans (Leporello), Alberto Rinaldi (Masetto), Peter Lagger (Commendatore), Scottish Opera Chorus, English Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim

If you have listened to Daniel Barenboim’s recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, his early attempt with the English Chamber Orchestra will first seem surprisingly light in texture. Also, one will welcome the conductor’s search for expressive sonorities that create the right atmosphere for every scene, but this positive impression will vanish as soon as incoherence starts to prevail – tempi become more and more nonsensical and sluggish and any possibility of drama is soon over. If a more compelling cast had been gathered, maybe singers could have infused the proceedings with some sparkle, but as it is the lack of forward movement just expose their blank interpretation and vocal inadequacies. Antigone Sgourda has the elements of a Donna Anna, but her technique is unreliable and she finally sounds entirely clueless in Non mi dir. Heather Harper is far more accomplished – actually, she is basically unchallenged by the difficulties of the part of Donna Elvira, but – although she was in her early 40s, she sounds here like a very well-schooled soprano in her 60’s who is doing really well for her age. The performance, accordingly, is exclusively about getting the notes done. The usually lovely Helen Donath seems a bit lost here too – the slow tempi for her arias show her uncertain and a bit vinegary. It is hard to believe that the tenor featured here is really Luigi Alva – the performance is frankly awkward, the vibrato out of control, passagework blurred. Roger Soyer has a basically pleasant tonal quality that could have worked some seduction for Don Giovanni, but his singing is extremely detached (even in his last scene) and there is a hint of throatiness that makes it even more colorless. The fact that Geraint Evans is featured in so many Mozart opera recordings will always remain a mystery for me – it is a bit grotesque, unidiomatic and difficult to listen to. In his defense, one can always say that, at least, he is doing something in terms of performance. Peter Lagger has a very bad time trying to sing the Commendatore’s part in act II.

ALEXANDER GIBSON, 1975
Rachel Mathes (Anna), Sheila Armstrong (Elvira), Ann Murray (Zerlina), Robert Tear (Ottavio), John Shirley-Quirk (Giovanni), Stafford Dean (Leporello), Arthur Jackson (Masetto), Don Garrard (Commendatore), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Alexander Gibson

Also from the 70’s, there are Classics for Pleasure’s highlights from Scotland. Despite its many drawbacks, the performance still holds some interest because of the outstanding sense of clarity – rarely did the dissonances in the Commendatore’s death been so easily noticed as here. Also the Scottish Chamber Orchestra strings tackle Mozart divisions with amazing sense of articulation of phrasing, not to mention that the upfront woodwind adds real spirit to the performance as a whole. Just listen the Champagne Aria to hear how the orchestra is cheering and having a great time. It is true that Alexander Gibson’s tempi are not always fluent as we use to see today, but his sense of elegance and structural understanding are compensation enough. Rachel Mathes’s penetrating soprano can sound on the wiry side when dealing with mezza voce and her performance is a bit old-fashioned. It seems she has reasonable flexibility, but without Non mi dir it is difficult to say the last word about her. Sheila Armstrong’s appealing voice is too light for Elvira. On the other hand, Ann Murray is a charming creamy-toned Zerlina. Robert Tear is miscast as Ottavio – the voice is too tense and the style too operetta-like for Mozart. His runs on the breath for Il mio tesoro are stil admirable, but this is basically an ad hoc performance. John Shirley-Quirk’s baritone is far from ingratiating, but he does know how to mellow for his serenade. Stafford Dean’s bass can sound throaty and he is somewhat free about his notes. The recorded sound could have a bit more space, but allows for the complete clarity as mentioned above.

COLIN DAVIS, 1973
Martina Arroyo (Anna), Kiri Te Kanawa (Elvira), Mirella Freni (Zerlina), Stuart Burrows (Ottavio), Ingvar Wixell (Giovanni), Wladimiro Ganzarolli (Leporello), Richard Van Allan (Masetto), Luigi Roni (Commendatore), Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis

Colin Davis’s never forgets the fact that Don Giovanni is a dramma giocoso, offering a nice balance between the dramatic and comic aspects. In its understated way, it is a most satisfying recording, especially when tempi are flowing and natural, with clear woodwind. Although the articulation of the strings players in the Covent Garden’s orchestra is precise, the sound is not terribly beautiful. Martina Arroyo is not a name one would associate with Mozart, but her dark voiced Anna is sung with true feeling for Mozartian style. Kiri Te Kanawa is trying to show a temperament she does not usually have. However, she was not in her best shape here: her singing is small-scaled and uninteresting. Mirella Freni offers creamy tone and is really spirited. It is a pity she indulges in some out-of-fashion habits, such as pecking at notes and singing under the pitch for funny effects. Stuart Burrows’s singing is adept even if not that ingratiating or appealing. Ingvar Wixell, however, is a capable Giovanni. He is in very firm voice and builds his interpretation rather around damnation than around seduction. Even if Wladimiro Ganzarolli is idiomatic and animated, his Leporello is everything but pleasant to the ears. Luigi Roni displays a dark and heavy yet not firm enough voice as the Commendatore. Recitatives are very theatrical – Freni and Ganzarolli in advantage for singing in their native language.

CARLO MARIA GIULINI, 1970
Gundula Janowitz (Anna), Sena Jurinac (Elvira), Olivera Miljakovic (Zerlina), Alfredo Kraus (Ottavio), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Giovanni), Sesto Bruscantini (Leporello), Walter Monachesi (Masetto), Dimiter Petkov (Commendatore), Orchestra della RAI, Carlo Maria Giulini

In his RAI performances, Giulini offers more flowing tempi than in his studio recording (see below). It is a pity that the recorded sound is very problematic – unacceptably congested, making singers’ voices sound hard. This is particularly problematic for Gundula Janowitz, who ends on sounding raw in Or sai chi l’onore. However, she still has her beautiful phrasing and pianissimi and offers acceptable coloratura in Non mi dir. Nicolai Ghiaurov is an impressive Giovanni and aptly constrasted to Sesto Bruscantini’s imaginative Leporello. Sena Jurinac was past her best as Elvira, but Olivera Miljakovic’s Zerlina is the chief disappointment here. Unfortunately, Alfredo Kraus too has poor notion of Mozartian style. To make things worse, the orchestra is unpolished and laboured.

HERBERT VON KARAJAN, 1970
Gundula Janowitz (Anna), Teresa Zylis-Gara (Elvira), Olivera Miljakovic (Zerlina), Stuart Burrows (Ottavio), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Giovanni), Geraint Evans (Leporello), Rolando Panerai (Leporello), Victor von Halem (Commendatore), Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

Live from Salzburg in 1970, Karajan offers a performance midway between his energetic approach of the previous recording and the heavyweight quality of his recording made in the same venue in the 80’s. Although this one has its moments of ponderousness, especially in less rhythmic passages such as recitatives, the Austrian conductor’s tempi still retain the necessary forward movement and clarity. Some passages are indeed admirable, such as the charming La ci darem la mano, in which the orchestral itself sounds teasing and flirtatious, and the chamber music-like Batti, batti. The Vienna Philharmonic is in splendid shape – its zipping articulation giving zest to a overheavy appeareance of the Commendatore’s ghost. It must be pointed out that there is an element of underrehearsed here, with some mismatches, singers missing their entries or text and an omnipresent souffleur, but this does not spoil the fun at all. The cast has lots in common with Giulini’s recording in Italy, but the singers appearing in both recordings are invariably better recorded and most inspired here. Gundula Janowitz is in heavenly voice as Donna Anna, but deals with both her arias more from technique than nature. Or sai chi l’onore is above her natural Fach, but she sings it with cleanliness and assurance, while Karajan succeeds in keeping a convincing slow tempo for Non mi dir, making it possible for her to acquit herself reasonably well in the stretta. All in all, it is a noble and exquisite piece of singing. Teresa Zylis Gara’s soprano is rounder and richer here than in Böhm’s recording. However, she is even more anonymous here as a performer. Her cautious approach to top notes is also a drawback, no matter how appealingly pearly her tone is. This is probably Olivera Miljakovic’s best recorded performance. She still displays some tackiness, but her tone is at its creamiest and she finds the right touch of seduction. Although Stuart Burrows has all the necessary resources for Don Ottavio, he has his uningratiating moments. That said, his breath and dynamic control in his arias are exemplary. Nicolai Ghiaurov has never been so animated as Don Giovanni as in this performance. He shows a lightness and sense of humour not entirely available both in Giulini’s and Klemperer’s recording. His discipline is poor, though, and it seems that the mandolin player and he were not best friends. Geraint Evans has poor Italian, is overfunny, and the tone tends to be curdled. His comic effects in recitative sounds as he is voicing over an animation of a goblin in a cartoon or something like that. Rolando Panerai is the funniest Masetto in the discography and Victor von Halem is a truly impressive Commendatore – powerful and dark over the whole range.

OTTO KLEMPERER, 1966
Claire Watson (Anna), Christa Ludwig (Elvira), Mirella Freni (Zerlina), Nicolai Gedda (Ottavio), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Paolo Montarsolo (Masetto), Franz Crass (Commendatore), New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Otto Klemperer

You could have found Otto Klemperer’s cast live at the Vienna State Opera singing Verdi’s Don Carlo, but EMI decided to give a chance to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Although these CDs have the warning “overheavy” written all over, the performance may work its charm on you if you give it 10 minutes. The conductor achieves here more than what is generally called clarity: it is true that his tempi are indisputably slow, but – contrary to what historically informed practices have told us – good old Klemperer seems to use the more considerate pace to give life to every note written in the score, not only in the sense that you can clearly distinguish every individual phrase in the musical texture, but also that they are granted meaning. The orchestral sound is alternatively moulded into lightness and freshness or into sheer power and drive – and rarely an orchestral effect goes unnoticed. Just sample the opening scene, where Leporello’s tiptoeing, Anna’s frenzy and Don Giovanni and the Commendatore’s fierce duel are all represented by the orchestral forces. Claire Watson’s blond soprano belongs to old school tradition, but her elegance and roundness of tone have not lost the appeal, even if the overall impression is a bit cold. Only her very slow Non mi dir is a bit overcautious. Christa Ludwig is controversial casting in this opera. Her velvety warm tone is not foreign to Donna Elvira’s music and she has no problem to float the occasional necessary top note, but even adjustments could not help her with Mi tradì, in which the singer is noticeably uncomfortable. This is Mirella Freni’s best recorded Zerlina – she is at her freshest and her natural delivery of the Italian text is irresistible. Unfortunately, Don Ottavio never was Nicolai Gedda’s best role. He is ill at ease and not entirely stylish as he could be. Nicolai Ghiaurov’s chocolate-y bass is tailor-made for Don Giovanni, but his approach to the role is too buffo-ish, making his defiant descent to hell rather nonsensical. On the other hand, properly cast as Leporello, Walter Berry offers a delightful and ebullient performance. Franz Crass is in splendid shape as the Commendatore.

GEORG SOLTI, 1962
Leyla Gencer (Anna), Sena Jurinac (Elvira), Mirella Freni (Zerlina), Richard Lewis (Ottavio), Cesare Siepi (Giovanni), Geraint Evans (Leporello), Robert Savoie (Masetto), David Ward (Commendatore), Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Georg Solti

Released in the Royal Opera House’s Heritage Series, Georg Solti’s 1962 live performance was actually recorded back then by an enthusiast in his radio. It had emerged as a pirate recording until it was finally refurbished and officially released in 2007. Considering its source, the new release has very acceptable sound. Of course, ensembles tend to be congested and there is some tape fading in specific moments. The performance itself could be described as the opposition between the conductor’s urge for forward movement and the orchestra’s inability to follow his commands. As a result, ensemble tends to be messy and there is mismatching in plenty. This will be a side comment to the collector, who will not resist the interest of the starry cast. Leyla Gencer may seem an exotic name for a Mozart opera, but the legendary Turkish soprano is in her best behaviour and offers a feminine and stylish Donna Anna. Her floating mezza voce and clear divisions are a reward in itself. Sena Jurinac is a passionate rich-toned Elvira. Her Mi tradì has its rough edges, though. The young Mirella Freni is an irresistible creamy-toned and sparkling Zerlina. It is a pity that Richard Lewis was not in good voice that evening- his Ottavio sounds a bit arthritic and awkward. Cesare Siepi’s Don Giovanni is more smoothly sung in his official recordings, but he offers here an animated and dramatic performance. Geraint Evans is accordingly an ebullient Leporello. The part is a bit low for him, but his voice was caught here in very good shape. Robert Savoie is an engaged Masetto and, despite a voice too light for the part, David Ward is a powerful Commendatore.

HERBERT VON KARAJAN, 1960
Leontyne Price (Anna), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Elvira), Graziella Sciutti (Zerlina), Cesare Valetti (Ottavio), Eberhard Wächter (Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Rolando Panerai (Leporello), Nicola Zaccaria (Commendatore),Wiener Staatsopernchor und orchester, Herbert von Karajan

Herbert von Karajan’s 1960 recording made live at the Vienna State Opera shows the conductor in passionate mood – zipping tempi and rich orchestral sound. The recorded sound is vivid, rather clear for an unofficial release, and catches the excitement of a legendary night at the opera. Leontyne Price, in fresh voice, is a glorious Donna Anna. Her tonal richness prevents fioriture to be sung really a tempo, but her velvety soprano sumptuously fills her phrases throughout the long range and takes readily to mezza voce and trills. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s Donna Elvira is a bit overinflected. However, the voice is healthy shape, provided you can put up with unsupported low register and approximative divisions. This is Graziella Sciutti’s best Zerlina. Although the charm is a bit old-fashioned, her singing sounds here fuller-toned than usual  and the result is pleasing enough. Cesare Valletti’s vocalism too is old-fashioned and it takes some times to adjust to it. Nevertheless, he is a reliable singer and has a more substantial voice than usual for the role. Eberhard Wächter is at his firmest and most powerful and sings the role with untamed energy. His Leporello, Walter Berry, also operates on high voltage – they are a wonderful master/servant team. Nicola Zaccaria is a warm-toned Commendatore.

CARLO MARIA GIULINI, 1959
Joan Sutherland (Anna), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Elvira), Graziella Sciutti (Zerlina), Luigi Alva (Ottavio), Eberhard Wächter (Giovanni), Giuseppe Taddei (Leporello), Piero Cappuccilli (Masetto), Gottlob Frick (Commendatore), Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini

Many critics consider that we owe to Carlo Maria Giulini the first attempt to make Don Giovanni sound like a classical work,  comic and dramatic elements in perfect balance. Although the performance shows its age,  it is undeniable that Giulini generally has good tempi and some modern ideas about phrasing, not to mention that some classical portraits are preserved here: Joan Sutherland’s forceful Anna (her most interesting recorded performance ), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s tigress of Elvira and Eberhard Wächter’s damned-from-the-beginning Giovanni. Graziella Sciutti’s doll soprano requires adaptation from modern listeners, while Giuseppe Taddei’s clownish approach collides with genuine Mozartian style. Luigi Alva is a dull Ottavio and Gottlob Frick is uncomfortable with the tessitura and has extremely poor Italian. EMI’s first mastering for CD was particularly poor and I strongly recommend buying the new “EMI – the home of opera” release.

HANS ROSBAUD, 1955
Teresa Stich-Randall (Anna), Suzanne Dannco (Elvira), Anna Moffo (Zerlina), Nicolai Gedda (Ottavio), Antonio Campo (Giovanni), Marcello Cortis (Leporello), André Vessières (Masetto), Raffaele Arié (Commendatore), Choeur du Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Orchestre de la Societé des Concerts du Conservatoire, Hans Rosbaud

Although the orchestral playing in Hans Rosbaud’s performance recorded live in Aix-en-Provence is not competitive, the conductor has well chosen urgent tempi and his phrasing and articulation are in keeping with classical style. The level of clarity, especially related to woodwind, is praiseworthy. I particularly like his true andante in Don Giovanni’s serenade. He has a very decent cast. Teresa Stich-Randall has a pleasing voice, dramatic commitment and astonishingly clear and accurate coloratura. However, she is sometimes below the note, has the annoying habit of separating notes instead of singing legato and could have better Italian. Suzanne Danco is an intense Elvira and is in fresh voice. Anna Moffo is a most seductive Zerlina; Nicolai Gedda’s style sounds a bit outdated, but he is in his youthful best; Antonio Campo is a rich-voiced Giovanni, but Marcello Cortis is rather rough as Leporello and Raffaelle Arié lacks the deep low notes for the Commendatore, although he is animated. The recorded sound is mono and quite acceptable for a live performance those days.

JOSEF KRIPS, 1955
Suzanne Danco (Anna), Lisa della Casa (Elvira), Hilde Güden (Zerlina), Anton Dermota (Ottavio), Cesare Siepi (Giovanni), Fernando Corena (Leporello), Walter Berry (Masetto), Kurt Böhme (Commendatore), Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Josef Krips

Josef Krips’s recording offers a fully Romantic view of Don Giovanni. Although the Vienna Philharmonic is not made to sound heavy and there are interesting insightful ideas here and there (especially in the act 1 finale), it is still a rather outdated view of this opera. I suppose that the main source of interest here is its cast, which is quite satisfying. Suzanne Danco, although her voice is a bit on the low side for Donna Anna, is a skilled singer with a pleasant velvety soprano and a good grasp of Mozartian style. Even if Lisa della Casa’s crystal-clear voice is pleasing enough, she is defeated here by the slightest passagework. Hilde Güden is twittery as Zerlina, but Anton Dermota is stylish all the way – he was not in his most flexible voice for Il mio tesoro, though. Cesare Siepi, of course, is a commanding Don Giovanni, one of the lushest voices ever to appear in this role. His partnership with Fernando Corena’s Leporello is lively, although the latter also indulges in some “funny” effects. Kurt Böhme is in poor voice for the Commendatore. The recorded sound lacks space .

BRUNO WALTER, 1942

Rose Bampton (Anna), Jarmila Novotna (Elvira), Bidú Sayão (Zerlina), Charles Kullman (Ottavio), Ezio Pinza (Giovanni), Alexander Kipnis (Leporello), Mark Harrell (Masetto), Norman Cordon (Commendatore), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Bruno Walter

Historical recording collectors reserve a special place for the famous recording of Bruno Walter’s performance at the Metropolitan Opera, generally described as “demonic” because of its white-hot orchestral playing, which – even outdated in its grandiose style – is still impressive. He also had  a legendary cast: Rose Bampton’s heroic and capable Anna, Bidú Sayão’s flirtatious Zerlina and Ezio Pinza’s complete-charmer Giovanni. Unfortunately, Jarmila Novotna was in wiry voice as Elvira and Alexander Kipnis had a weird idea about pronunciation of Italian language (but what a voice!). There are many aspects here that are outdated, but it is undeniably a tour de force, available in good sound, at least in Naxos.

Obs.- MacKerras, Norrington, Gardiner and Östman offer the complete Vienna and Prague versions. Malgoire is closer to the Vienna version, but it has cuts anyway – the opera ends before Ah, dov’è il perfido.