Don Giovanni

Irina Lungu (Donna Anna), Katerina Kneziková (Donna Elvira), Julia Noviková (Zerlina), Dmitry Korchak (Don Ottavio), Simone Alberghini (Don Giovanni), Adrian Sampetrean (Leporello), Jiri Bruckler (Masetto), Jan Stáva (Il Commendatore), Choir of the National Theatre (Opera Národního Divadla), Prague National Theatre Orchestra (Orchestr Národního Divadla), Plácido Domingo

The video from Prague’s Estates Theatre, the venue of the world première of Don Giovanni, appears as a peculiar entry in the discography. Jiri Nekvasil’s production at first seems to be historically informed, but one soon realises it is just made to look like a historic production. Costumes, backdrops and candlelight help to create the false impression, but the acting style and some stage tricks (the Commendatore has a sword curiously similar to a Sith lightsaber and Leporello’s notebook looks like a telephone directory). Although very little is required in terms of acting from the cast, some singers still seem unwilling to move much. The fact that superstar tenor Plácido Domingo has the conducting duties probably explain this video’s official release. Domingo is hardly a specialist in this repertoire (even in his singing career), and the results turn out predictably square in terms of rhythm and tempi. That said, one must concedes him that his almost excessive respect to the score often gives this performance a refreshing sense of forward movement, helped by the house orchestra’s flexible if unglamorous-sounding string section. Highlighting woodwind is always advisable in Mozart, but here there seems to be some sort of record engineering unbalance that makes it all sound like Blasmusik. Irina Lungu’s vibrant soprano often goes beyond the limits of tremulousness and she seems to concentrate on the notes rather than on Donna Anna’s predicament. She can softens her tone for mezza voce and the coloratura is less problematic than one could fear. Katerina Kneziková’s penetrating soprano can acquire a metallic squillo that some might find unpleasant, and yet her Donna Elvira is the most interesting figure on stage. Even poorly directed, she proves to have dramatic instincts, handles the recitatives adeptly and has an intuitive grasp of Mozartian style. Julia Noviková’s soprano sounds simply too thick for Zerlina and her tone comes across as worn and uningratiating. Dmitry Korchak is a firm-toned but heavy-handed Don Ottavio who does not really know the text of Dalla sua pace. Simone Alberghini’s Don Giovanni operates on a darkened tonal quality dangerously close to throatiness. His Leporello, Adrian Sampetrean, also has a hint of wooliness, but the tone is warm and pleasant to the ears. They both establish an effective contrast in the master’s snob manners and the servant’s artless attitude. Jiri Bruckler’s baritone sounds closer to what one expects to hear in this repertoire, and he handles Masetto’s aria commendably. Jan Stáva’s bass has the right darkness for the Commendatore, but not the amplitude.

Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Anna), Julie Boulianne (Donna Elvira), Anna Grevelius (Zerlina), Julien Behr (Don Ottavio), Jean-Sébastien Bou (Don Giovanni), Robert Gleadow (Leporello), Marc Scoffoni (Masetto), Steven Humes (Il 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 had already conducted Così Fan Tutte at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées and Le Nozze di Figaro in Beaune (as recorded on video by France Musique), but Don Giovanni was his first Da Ponte opera officially released. Recorded live in Paris by Radio France, these CDs have excellent sound that keeps the stage atmosphere 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. The cast here gathered, however, is on the lacklustre side. With four recordings as Donna Anna to her credit, Mirtò Papatanasiu is probably the best documented singer in this role. If she showed some development in her recording with Teodor Currentzis (SEE BELOW) from earlier flawed attempts, her singing in Paris does not suggest 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 far from 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 ease with Mozartian style and not immaculate in what regards intonation.

Irina Lungu (Donna Anna), Maria José Elvira (Donna Elvira), Natalia Roman (Zerlina), Saimir Pirgu (Don Ottavio), Carlos Álvarez (Don Giovanni), Alex Esposito (Leporello), Christian Senn (Masetto), Rafal Siwek (Il Commendatore), Coro e Orchestra dell’Arena di Verona, Stefano Montanari

There are many incongruent elements in the performances recorded live in the Arena di Verona. First, I don’t think even in his wildest dreams Mozart imagined that Don Giovanni would ever be performed in a large open-air venue such as the Roman amphitheater in Piazza Bra. Second, works from the 18th century are not usually the repertoire heard there. This means, that the forces involved are somewhat out of their depth – a fact conductor Stefano Montanari seems unwilling to accept. On the one hand, this is an advantage. His take on the score is energetic, rhythmically varied and theatrical. On the other hand, the orchestra and the soloists are often at odds with the maestro’s flexible beat, what involves a high level of mismatching. Third, it is difficult – not to say impossible – to respect the limits of classical style in such large scale. This means that all musicians – singers especially -  highlight, amplify, magnify, overdo, exaggerate as if their lives depended on it. Successful large-scale Mozartian singing is a rare phenomenon, and there are very few specimen in this performance. In the title role, Carlos Álvarez with his velvety, full-toned baritone is actually the singer who comes closer. Nobody would call his singing subtle, but – truth be said – the role is often zoomed to 150%.  He has crystal-clear diction and does not need to force his tone. Fortunately, Alex Esposito’s Leporello is the other performance that balances the demands of entertaining the last row and the needs of Mozartian phrasing. In a buffo role, his approach is broader and bolder, but he has panache to sustain the hyperactivity and being Italian, has the know-how to play with his text. Irina Lungu’s soprano still lacks some firmness for the part of Donna Anna, but here she offers a far more satisfying performance than she would in Prague (SEE ABOVE for Domingo), the voice more consistent and integrated. She still has some problems with the staccato in the stretta of Non mi dir, but other than this, the coloratura is more fluent here too. In spite of her obvious good intensions, María José Siri does not belong in this repertoire. Her soprano sounds gusty and curdled and she strays from true pitch too often for comfort. Not as often as the intonation-challenged, tonally unstable and unfocused Zerlina. Maybe because of the venue’s size, the capable Saimir Pirgu sounds here emphatic and lacking nuance. Raphal Siwek’s bass is ample and dark enough for the Commendatore, but rather noble in tone for the closing scene. Franco Zeffirelli’s production – reminiscent of the one telecast by the Met with Carol Vaness, Samuel Ramey and Ferruccio Furlanetto – looks like what could be done given the scenic limitations in the Arena. It has a baroque architectonic stravaganza for a single set and the acting involves very big gestures. Singers’ entries and exits take more time than in a regular theater (and this applies for stagehands too), impairing sometimes the flow of music. Given the acoustic difficulties involved – most noticeable in recitatives – the recording is surprisingly acceptable in terms  of balance.

Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Anna), Karina Gauvin (Donna Elvira), Christina Gansch (Zerlina), Kenneth Tarver (Don Ottavio), Dimitris Tiliakos (Don Giovanni), Vito Priante (Leporello), Guido Loconsolo (Masetto), Mika Kares (Il 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: here 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 in Don Giovanni. 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 raspingly). 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 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 before 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.

Malin Byström (Donna Anna), Véronique Gens (Donna Elvira), Elizabeth Watts (Zerlina), Antonio Poli (Don Ottavio), Mariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni), Alex Esposito (Leporello), Dawid Kimbetg (Masetto), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Il 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.

Lenneke Ruiten (Donna Anna), Anett Fritsch (Donna Elvira), Valentina Nafornita (Zerlina), Andrew Staples (Don Ottavio), Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Alessio Arduini (Masetto), Tomasz Konieczny (Il Commendatore), Philharmonia Chor Wien, Wiener Philharmoniker, Cristoph Eschenbach

I wonder why Unitel has found it important to release this 2014 Salzburg Festival  production. It is so unmemorable that I can only understand it as a souvenir for those who were there and would like to remember it. Actually, no. I was there and was shocked how lackadaisical a festival as prestigious as Salzburg could go after decades of setting standards of Mozart opera performances. Christoph Eschenbach seemed to concentrate in purely musical aspects of this performance – eliciting beautiful sounds from an ideal Vienna Philharmonic, elegant in phrasing, clear and transparent. Sven-Erich Berchtolf staging is set again in a hotel (SEE BELOW: WELSER MÖST, 2006). This time the amount of slapstick, underwear and nonsense is a bit higher than in Zurich, but again with the help of Rolf Glittenberg’s sets and a detailed Personenregie, it has its moments. Lenneke Ruiten’s acidulous and raspish Donna Anna operates very close to the edge and yet she can now and then soften her tone and offer fluent coloratura in Non mi dir. Anett Fritsch sings a musicianly and stylish Donna Elvira, but the tonal quality is a bit monochrome and anonymous. Valentina Lafornita’s soprano, on the other hand, does have distinctive color. She also has metallic patches and moments of dubious intonation or awkward breath control. Andrew Staples’s Don Ottavio offers a series of variations of nasality. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s Don Giovanni is so lugubriously and heavily sung that you could take him for the Commendatore.  In that role, Tomasz Konieczny proves uncomfortable with the Italian language. The recording does not capture the impact of the size of his voice in the theatre, and even if there is more than a splash of Alberich here, his singing is aptly forceful. Luca Pisaroni’s exemplary Leporello has been recorded in better circumstances elsewhere.  Alessio Arduini is a firm-toned, characterful Masetto

Christine Schäfer (Donna Anna), Maité Beaumont (Donna Elvira), Mari Eriksmoen (Zerlina), Mauro Peter (Don Ottavio), André Schuen (Don Giovanni), Ruben Drole (Leporello), Mika Kares (Maseto/Il Commendatore), Arnold Schoenberg Chor, Concentus Musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt

This concert, recorded  at the Theater an der Wien, is Harnoncourt’s single official Don Giovanni with his period-instrument orchestra Concentus Musicus Wien. As the other DVDs in this serie, there is no proper staging, but rather a few props and minimal acting. There are no costumes and singers often have their notes on a stand. In other words, it offers no visual interest to justify a release on video. Harnoncourt is consistent to his own mannerisms here, but scrawny violins, squawky brass only make the emptiness between notes more evident. The performance moves stodgily and awkwardly, although one can find moments of unusual clarity – especially in ensembles – in which Mozart’s writing for woodwind is evident – and it must be said that, wiry as they may sound, these strings tackle divisions adeptly. But make no mistake – even more than the Così fan tutte recorded with similar forces, this performance can be testing in its lack of sensuous appeal in purely musical terms. To make things a little bit more difficult, this is not the kind of cast that redeems a performance. To start with, it is impossible to overlook the decline in Christine Schäfer’s voice. Even in her prime, in Daniel Harding’s video from Salzburg (SEE BELOW), one could see that the part was a bit heavy for her. Here her middle register is barely functional, she is often unable to reach the end of phrases without an extra pause and intonation is largely hazardous. On the other hand, Maité Beaumont is one of the best mezzo Elviras in the discography – she sings the role almost come scritto (there are some weird pauses in the first aria and one high note missing in her last utterance), sings with a firm line, delivers the text incisively and handles most difficulties adeptly. If one has in mind that Mari Eriksmoen is the Fiordiligi in this series of Da Ponte operas, it is curious that her Zerlina sounds so small-scaled and short in appeal. Mauro Peter’s Don Ottavio is often unfocused in his high notes. He also sounds surprisingly short in legato in Dalla sua pace. It is difficult to put a finger in what is ultimately unconvincing in André Schuen’s Don Giovanni. First, he seems a bit helpless trying to be alphamale-ish as Don Giovanni, his light baritone a bit darkened, the attempt of delivering the text with macho energy exposing a lisp. It is a very decent performance, but not the one that makes everything gravitate around it, as it should. It seems that Harnoncourt convinced his singers to try a parlato approach in recitatives in every release in this series, but Ruben Drole took it simply too far. His aria is so crude, ungainly and ultimately unpleasant that it could go the bottom of the list in this discography. Also, his voice is a bit on the high side for the part and his attempt to making it Leporello-material results in a nasal, grainy sound that makes the character basically uncongenial. Mika Kares, both as Masetto and the Commendatore, comes across as too smooth and velvety.

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

The DVDs from Baden-Baden feature 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. 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. 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 sounds mostly labored, foggy and fatigued. Katija Dragojevic is the second mezzo in this cast – although her voice sounds unfocused and slightly hooty, it does have a sexy thing about it. Intonation and legato ought to be more consistent, though. Charles Castronovo is a more energetic Don Ottavio than usual. He sings with firmness of tone and vigor, but beefs up his passaggio in a way that sometimes suggests Puccini rather 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 seems 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 rightly turns around acting: 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… 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.

Anna Netrebko (Donna Anna), Barbara Frittoli (Donna Elvira), Anna Prohaska (Zerlina), Giuseppe Filianoti (Don Ottavio), Peter Mattei (Don Giovanni), Bryn Terfel (Leporello), Stefan Kocán (Masetto), Kwangchul Youn (Il Commendatore), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Milano, Daniel Barenboim

It is praiseworthy that Daniel Barenboim has developed his understanding of Mozartian style since his last studio recording with the Berlin Philharmonic (SEE BELOW). Although the proceedings are still a bit heavy-footed and lack forward movement, the clarity of articulation and balance in his orchestra is now closer to the the aural picture of a Mozartian orchestra. In La Scala’s dry acoustics, the orchestra sounds, however, on the wiry side and the recorded sound makes it even worse by giving singers such prominence. In comparison, Riccardo Muti’s control of the Milanese forces (SEE BELOW) is superior both in terms of finish and intensity. This cast at least six years earlier would have offered strong competition in the discography, but in the event proved a bit past the ideal point in their careers to tackle these roles. Anna Netrebko is marginally better than in her later recording with Thomas Hengelbrock (SEE ABOVE), but still needs too many extra breaths and is often approximative with coloratura and pitch. It is a pity she did not record it before her current investigation of heavier repertoire. 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. An experienced Elvira, Barbara Frittoli displays richness of tone and textual crispiness in her native Italian, but is no longer ideally steady and struggles with her fioriture. When it comes to Anna Prohaska, maybe it was too early for her to try Zerlina in a bigger venue. The adjustments she has to employ to be heard in the lower end of her voice collide with the purity of line she otherwise produces. The tonal palette is very restricted and she makes her interpretation rather through word-pointing. Fortunately, she has unusual command of Italian language for a German singer. Giuseppe Filianoti’s was never Mozart’s best friend, but here he is particularly free with pitch, note values and style, his darkened high notes incompatible with any idea of Classical poise. Peter Mattei, on the other hand, handles Mozartian phrasing with naturalness and offers a more interesting and more finished performance compared to his earlier recordings with Daniel Harding (SEE BELOW). Bryn Terfel too is more spontaneous in terms of interpretation in comparison to his recording with Claudio Abbado (SEE BELOW), but his low register had already lost its juice when caught by the microphones in Milan. The tone rings often glaringly open and sometimes his phrasing is chopped rather than sculpted. Formerly recorded both as Don Giovanni and Leporello, Kwangchul Youn has waited too much to try his Commendatore. His spacious and deep bass sounds tremulous here. Finally, Stefan Kocán’s vowels are excessively covered and his approach is somewhat matter-of-fact. Robert Carsen’s vacuous, purely visual production is indeed beautiful in its mirrored perspective and mise-en-abîme of La Scala’s auditorium, but one cannot help the impression of sameness and lack of imagination in the nth production in which Don Giovanni commands scenic elements to be in control of everything and everyone. Almost every singer in the cast is a committed actor and their interaction – especially Mattei and Terfel’s (also Frittoli’s scenes with both of them) – are the main source of interest in these DVDs.

Diana Damrau (Donna Anna), Joyce DiDonato (Donna Elvira), Mojca Erdmann (Zerlina), Rolando Villazón (Don Ottavio), Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Konstantin Wolff (Masetto), Vitalij Kowaljow (Il 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 at 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.

Rachelle Durkin (Donna Anna), Jacqueline Dark (Donna Elvira), Taryn Fiebig (Zerlina), Henry Choo (Don Ottavio), Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Don Giovanni), Conal Coad (Leporello), Andrew Jones (Masetto), Daniel Sumegi (Il Commendatore), Opera Australia Chorus, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Mark Wigglesworth

The DVDs from the Australian Opera feature a minimalistic single-set staging by Göran Järvefelt the only special feature of which is Personenregie. There is nothing truly revelatory on stage – characters shown at face value with costume periods – yet one can see that there has been an effective period of rehearsals and the stage action is detailed and convincing, even if the level of acting is irregular. Mark Wigglesworth is an alert Mozart conductor who adopts propulsive rhythms, knows the value of clear articulation and generally has the orchestra well-balanced even if the sound is not truly glamorous. He shows unusual consideration for his singers, who are generally not up to international standards. He has an objective approach, avoiding sentimentality even when he could relax a bit more, such as in the trio with Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Don Ottavio. To start with, Italian language is mostly ill-treated, sometimes to the level of incomprehensibility. A high- and light toned Donna Anna, Rachelle Durkin is the most reliable singer in the cast. Her soprano can acquire a metallic edge when hard-pressed, but she acquits herself commendably in both her demanding arias. Jacqueline Dark knows all the ropes in the role of Donna Elvira, but it seems she is slightly past her best, the voice colorless in its high reaches. Taryn Fiebig couldn’t find the Italian language in the map and yet she has an alright sweet tone for Zerlina. Henry Choo curiously sings only Dalla sua pace, and I would be curious to hear him in Il mio tesoro. His tenor has the right sound for this repertoire and he sings with poise. In the title role, Teddy Tahu Rhodes’s bass is so invariably cavernous that one just feels that there is no surprises ahead – and indeed there are none. Conal Coad is the dictionary definition of “unidiomatic”, and his voice sounds rather juiceless for the part of Leporello. That said, he is probably the best actor in the cast. It is difficult to say anything about Daniel Sumegi’s Commendatore. The sound is on the nasal sound and there is too much echo effect in the closing scene.

Marlis Petersen (Donna Anna), Kristine Opolais (Donna Elvira), Kerstin Avemo (Zerlina), Colin Balzer (Don Ottavio), Boje Skovhus (Don Giovanni), Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello), David Bizic (Masetto), Anatoli Kotscherga (Il 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 goes beyond acting like 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 overlooks that this had nothing 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 musical 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 the cast does not live up to the conducting. In normal circumstances, Marlis Petersen would have been cast as Zerlina. 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. 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 was more at ease. The Masetto, David Bizic, has a natural and appealing voice.  Anatoli Kotscherga sings his own version of the tonal system here.

Anna Samuil (Donna Anna), Kate Royal (Donna Elvira), Anna Virovlansky (Zerlina), William Burden (Don Ottavio), Gerald Finley (Don Giovanni), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Guido Loconsolo (Masetto), Brindley Sherratt (Il 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, synchronicity 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 an orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic with 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 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 sounds here 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. In this 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.

Anna Samuil (Donna Anna), Maria Luigia Borsi (Donna Elvira), Chen Reiss (Zerlina), Dmitry Korchak (Don Ottavio), Nicola Ulivieri (Don Giovanni), Maurizio Muraro (Leporello), Simon Orfila (Masetto), Marco Spotti (Il 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 favorable 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.

Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Anna), Carmela Remigio (Donna Elvira), Manuela Bisceglie (Zerlina), Marlin Miller (Don Ottavio), Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Don Giovanni), Andrea Concetti (Leporello), William Corrò (Masetto), Enrico Iori (Il 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, anachronistic 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.

Annette Dasch (Donna Anna), Dorothea Röschmann (Donna Elvira), Ekaterina Siurina (Zerlina), Matthew Polenzani (Don Ottavio), Cristopher Maltman (Don Giovanni), Erwin Schrott (Leporello), Alex Esposito (Masetto), Anatoli Kotcherga (Il 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.

Marina Poplavskaya (Donna Anna), Joyce DiDonato (Don Elvira), Miah Persson (Zerlina), Ramón Vargas (Don Ottavio), Simon Keenlyside (Don Giovanni), Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello), Robert Gleadow (Masetto), Eric Halfvarson (Il 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 – SEE BELOW), 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, anachronistic 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.

Malin Byström (Donna Anna), Alexandrina Pendatschanska (Donna Elvira), Sunhae Im (Zerlina), Werner Güra (Don Ottavio), Johannes Weisser (Don Giovanni), Marcos Fink (Leporello), Nikolay Borchev (Masetto), Alessandro Guerzoni (Il Commendatore), Chor der Innsbrucker Festwochen, Freiburger Barockorchester, René Jacobs

Taped during performances in Baden-Baden, René Jacobs’s video of Mozart’s Don Giovanni features a production by Vincent Boussard with costumes by Christia Lacroix. Everything looks a little bit frumpier than a high-school pantomime. I hope tickers for the live performances were not expensive, for it all comes across as cheap and unconvincing. As much as his CDs recorded two years before, 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 before. 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). The decoration in vocal lines sounds awkward to my ears, and some cute ideas 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. 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 sex appeal 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. Malin Byström’s Donna Anna here is far preferable to her performance on DVD in London six years later (SEE ABOVE for LUISOTTI). It is still rather monochrome a voice in its backward placement, and yet here she generally keeps a flowing legato line when things get high and fast. Alexandrina Pendatschanska, on the other hand, chops her phrasing around a noticeable register break and is too fond of ending phrases in a spoken, off-pitch tone. After a while, this becomes just predictable and annoying. Werner Güra is at his less honeyed and dispatches an unlovely Dalla sua pace. He does not get to sing Il mio tesoro. As much as in his recording for Lombard (SEE BELOW), Marcos Fink is a velvety-toned Leporello with plenty of verve, here even less comfortable in what is for him high tessitura. The conductor allows him to try to disguise that with some bizarre rewriting of his lines. Nikolay Borchev (Masetto) not only has more appealing a voice than this performance’s Don Giovanni, but also beats him in looks and attitude. If Alessandro Guerzoni displays far more textual crispiness than most basses in the part of the Commendatore, he sounds overparted and short in both extremes of her voice. The edition involves not only the deletion of Don Ottavio’s aria, but the replacement of Ah, pietà, signori miei by the corresponding recitative and the inclusion of the razor duet.

Myrto Papatanasiu (Donna Anna), Charlotte Margiono (Donna Elvira), Cora Burggraf (Zerlina), Marcel Reijans (Don Ottavio), Pietro Spagnoli (Don Giovanni), José Fardilha (Leporello), Roberto Accurso (Masetto), Mario Luperi (Il 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 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 rough 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 or suggests 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.

Eva Mei (Donna Anna), Malin Hartelius (Donna Elvira), Martina Janková (Zerlina), Piotr Beczala (Don Ottavio), Simon Keenlyside (Don Giovanni), Anton Scharinger (Leporello), Reinhard Mayr (Masetto), Alfred Muff (Il 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 grey 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 choreographed 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 committed to stage.

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

The performance recorded in studio with René Jacobs is almost identical in terms of conducting to his live performances caught on video with similar forces (SEE ABOVE). That means that all the mannerisms there are to be found here too. And they sound even less convincing, for the studio allows less bloom to the orchestra than live in Baden-Baden (and the fortepiano is here far more hearable). Olga Pasichnyk, a light-toned Donna Anna, shows herself nimble in coloratura and adept in mezza voce. That said, she is rarely commanding as the writing of her lines require. Alexandrina Pendatschanska 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. An exemplary Don Ottavio, Kenneth Tarver sings his divisions on the breath in Il mio tesoro. Lorenzo Regazzo is a spirited, idiomatic Leporello who relishes the buffo routine. Johannes Weisser’s Don Giovanni is marginally more consistent in studio than live on stage. There is no outstanding differences between Sunhae Im, Nikolay Borchev and Alessandro Guerzoni’s performances here and on video.

Christine Schäfer (Donna Anna), Melanie Diener (Donna Elvira), Isabel Bayrakdarian (Zerlina), Piotr Beczala (Don Ottavio), Thomas Hampson (Don Giovanni), Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Leporello), Luca Pisaroni (Masetto), Robert Lloyd (Il 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 for the vocal shortcomings, but his attitude and experience finally deliver the goods. As for Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, his solid basso cantante voice now occasionally 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.

María Bayo (Donna Anna), Sonia Ganassi (Donna Elvira), María José Moreno (Zerlina), Josep Bros (Don Ottavio), Carlos Álvarez (Don Giovanni), Lorenzo Regazzo (Leporello), José Antonio López (Masetto), Alfred Reiter (Il 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 grey-toned quality and Mi tradì required adaptations. On the other hand, María José Moreno’s silvery soprano is tailor-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.

Regina Schörg (Donna Anna), Véronique Gens (Donna Elvira), Marisa Martins (Zerlina), Marcel Reijans (Don Ottavio), Wojtek Drabowicz (Don Giovanni), Kwangchul Yun (Leporello), Felipe Bou (Masetto), Anatoly Kotcherga (Il 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 impairs 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 particularly 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.

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

Watching the video from Aix-en-Provence, recorded three years after the performance available on CD (SEE BELOW), 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 (, 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 approach, 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 sounded 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 readier to sing softly when necessary, while keeping the brightness and firmness he already had before.

Regina Schörg (Donna Anna), Heidi Brunner (Donna Elvira), Birgid Steinberger (Zerlina), Jeffrey Francis (Don Ottavio), Kwangchul Yun (Don Giovanni), Maurizio Muraro (Leporello), Richard Mayr (Masetto), Reinhard Hagen (Il 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 Donna 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, and yet idiomatic Italian finally does help him to produce the right effect in the part of Leporello. 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.

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

Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Zürich performance on video shows a 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 impair 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 line the same way. Liliana Nikiteanu is a commendable Zerlina, with a 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 Don Ottavio. Rodney Gilfry certainly has presence as Don Giovanni, but he is in poorer behavior 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 non-specifically 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.

Renée Fleming (Donna Anna), Solveig Kringelborn (Donna Elvira), Hei-Kyung Hong (Zerlina), Paul Groves (Don Ottavio), Bryn Terfel (Don Giovanni), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), John Relyea (Masetto), Sergei Koptchak (Il Commendatore), 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. The glamorous cast here gathered is highly theatrical and responds vividly to Franco Zeffirelli’s experienced stage 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 studio recording with Georg Solti (SEE BELOW). 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 refreshing, while she still manages to produce the impact modern audiences expect from this role. Unfortunately, Hei-Kyung Hong’s performance does not match her appealing stage persona. The voice sounds acidulous and her sense of pitch is suspect. Paul Groves’s 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 he did in Solti’s studio recording. He offers here a spirited, almost violent approach to the title role, well 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,  less fresh in tone than in Karajan’s Salzburg performances (SEE BELOW). John Relyea is a congenial, firm-toned Masetto, but Sergei Koptchak – even if more positive than in his La Scala performances – still lacks tone for the part of the Commendatore.

Adrianna Pieczonka (Donna Anna), Regina Schörg (Donna Elvira), Ildikó Raimondi (Zerlina), Torsten Kerl (Don Ottavio), Boje Skovhus (Don Giovanni), Renato Girolami (Leporello), Boaz Daniel (Masetto), Janusz Monarcha (Il 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. 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.  Torsten Kerl sings the role of Don Ottavio as if it had been written by Richard Wagner. He does sing the fioriture in Il mio tesoro in one breath and the repeat in Dalla sua pace in mezza voce, yet his René Kollo-isms simply are too bizarre for Mozart. Also, he is often too lound in ensembles. For example, he  outsings his Donna Anna 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 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.

Adrianne Pieczonka (Donna Anna), Anna Caterina Antonnacci (Donna Elvira), Angelika Kirchschlager (Zerlina), Michael Schade (Don Ottavio), Carlos Álvarez (Don Giovanni), Ildebrando d’ Arcangelo (Leporello), Lorenzo Regazzo (Masetto), Franz-Josef Selig (Il 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 does not sound 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 help 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 in louder dynamics, he has remarkable control of mezza voce 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 audio-only recording. His voice is now richer and the characterization 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 caliber for the part of the Commendatore. Unfortunately, Roberto de Simone’s staging is rather on the ugly side and there is nothing memorable in terms of direction.

Carmela Remigio (Donna Anna), Véronique Gens (Donna Elvira), Lisa Larsson (Zerlina), Mark Padmore (Don Ottavio), Peter Mattei (Don Giovanni), Gilles Cachemaille (Leporello), Till Fechner (Masetto), Gudjon Oskarsson (Il 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 the 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 rounder than in Claudio Abbado’s recording. She also copes commendably with the very fast Or sai chi l’onore (the only moment where 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 here trying zillions of possibilities. In Ah, chi mi dice mai she verges on affectation, but she settles later into something  less exaggerated. Lisa Larsson’s voice lacks tone and her high notes spread. However, her non-cute Zerlina is ultimately convincing by her intelligent and idiomatic delivery of the text. In the part of Don Ottavio, Mark Padmore’s tenor 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 for the role of Don Giovanni. His recitatives are convincing and he phrases with accuracy and imagination. He manages to survive the zipping tempo for the Champagne aria, but his mezza voce in the serenade is too dim. On the other hand, Gilles Cachemaille, in the key role of Leporello, sounds past his best here. Till Fechner’s baritone lacks focus and Gudjon Oskarsson sounds light-voiced as the Commendatore.

Patrizia Pace (Donna Anna), Michèle Lagrange (Donna Elvira), Liliana Nikiteanu (Zerlina), Domenico Ghegghi (Don Ottavio), Boris Martinovich (Don Giovanni), Marcos Fink (Leporello), Davide Baronchelli (Masetto), Anatoli Kotscherga (Il 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. There are many moments of strain, constriction, poor intonation and shrillness, especially in Non mi dir, when Lombard made everything he could to undermine her singing. In spite of all that, she has enough dramatic temper and 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. Being a mezzo, she is not entirely at ease with the tessitura. The Don Ottavio, 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. The most accomplished singer in the cast, Marcos Fink, finds the role of Leporello high for his voice and often tiptoes in his upper range. He is a stylish Mozart singer and knows how to be funny without exaggeration. As in his other recordings as the Commendatore, Anatoli Kotscherga is ill at ease in this repertoire.

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

In Claudio Abbado’s recording, one finds a performance of extraordinary polish, structurally transparent in the light light and adept playing from the Chamber of Europe in dry recorded sound. The ideal ideal balance and the crystal-clear articulation make it the kind of performance that feels like reading the score. Abbado’s intent of showing the brilliance of Mozart’s writing to the tiniest details means it is not the most theatrical item in the discography, the excitement for the listener derived from its revelatory transparence and intelligence rather than from swift accents, exhilarating tempi and bombastic effects. To make things better, there is a truly distinguished cast. With a bright, flexible soprano, Carmela Remigio offers an accomplished account of the part of Donna Anna, Italianate in tone and crispy in the delivery of the text. She handles coloratura and mezza voce adeptly, and only a sour edge in her forte high notes could stand as a liability. A lyric, vulnerable Donna Elvira, Soile Isokoski sings with immaculate technique, unfailing poise and a tone here reminiscent of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s. Patrizia Pace’s bell-toned soprano sometimes sounds dangerously close to a chorus boy’s voice in tone and her intonation is perfectible. Yet native Italian comes always as a great advantage in a buffo role such as Zerlina, and her cleanliness of tone is proper to this repertoire. Unfortunately, the stylish Uwe Heilmann was past his best when he recorded the part of Don Ottavio. The flutter in his vocal production often goes beyond the limits of instability. One still finds his a voice pleasant in tone, but clearly below the level of this cast. Simon Keenlyside is a commanding Don Giovanni who uses the text creatively and sings in idiomatic Italian. As usual, Bryn Terfel can be heavy-handed in expression and his Leporello gives the impression of a sugar rush. He sings in a firm yet slightly open tone, and does the episode of the disguise in his master’s clothes more convincingly than anyone else. Only Sesto Bruscantini in the Giulini RAI broadcast offers something similar. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo is a superlative Masetto, and the snarly, dark-toned Matti Salminen comes across as a forceful Commendatore.

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

At first, Jean-Claude Malgoire’s recording does not look competitive, but it ultimately proves to be a persuasive recording in its alert, theatrical conducting, clear orchestral playing, slightly rough-toned in a positive way and a mostly reliable cast. Malgoire must be praised for his fresh-eyed approach to the score – his very flexible beat inhabits an ideal balance of dramatic effect and the needs of structural transparence. It is a recording to which one listens with pleasure in spite of its occasional short-comings and seeming lack of glamor. Danielle Borst is a lyric, creamy-toned Donna Anna who keeps a flowing legato even when hard-pressed. Véronique Gens offers here her smoothest Donna Elvira in the discography, warm in tone and stylish in phrasing. Sophie Marin-Degor is a sweet-toned yet earthy Zerlina. If Simon Edwards is not immediately appealing, his singing as Don Ottavio is accomplished and firm-toned. Nicolas Rivenq’s baritone does not sound particularly remarkable in tone, yet his performance as Don Giovanni comes across as convincing for the crispness of his delivery of the text, especially in recitatives. Unfortunately, Huub Claessens and Patrick Donnelly are rather dry and white toned in the roles of Leporello and Masetto (and also the Commendatore). The perspectives in the recorded sound are variable during the performance. It must be noted that the finale ultimo is shorn of its last scene, the sextet after Don Giovanni’s descent to hell.

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

In his last recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Georg Solti shows a new flexibility of tempo (usually on the fast if not hectic side) to his usual incisiveness of accent. This is Mozart painted with large brushstrokes -  rich,  orchestral sound conceived around the string section and Mozart writing shown rather as fireworks than filigree. What makes it a recommendation is the adept contribution the London Philharmonic in great shape, responding to the disciplinary conducting with playing of great clarity, recorded in natural, warm perspective and ideal balance with vocal soloists.  One could rightly point out that energetic as the proceedings are, the performance lacks dramatic variety, especially in recitatives. This is reinforced by a cast that largely lacks lightness. Renée Fleming often adopts a heavily expressive not 100% Mozartian style in the role of Donna Anna, and yet one cannot resist her rich-toned, creamy singing, both ductile in dynamics and flexible in coloratura. Ann Murray brings a flashing personality and long experience in this repertoire. For a mezzo soprano, she is relatively comfortable in the role of Donna Elvira. However, these concerts were caught a bit late in her career and her high register sounds overvibrant and strained. Another mezzo, Monica Groop sounds rather austere as Zerlina. She too finds no problems in the soprano tessitura, but sparkles only occasionally.  A stylish Mozartian, Herbert Lippert is clearly not in his best voice as Don Ottavio, short of breath and sometimes plain of tone. Bryn Terfel offers the sugar rush version of Don Giovanni, trying every weapon in his arsenal of mannerisms, often employed an excessively open tone. That said, his is a commanding personality, clearly in the centre of the events. Michele Pertusi is a spirited, idiomatic and velvety-toned Leporello. His high notes sound a bit bottled-up and unflowing, though. Roberto Scaltriti is a firm-toned, appropriately boorish Masetto, and Mario Luperi a rough-toned yet powerful Commendatore. The chorus – especially in the finale ultimo – is recorded in a rather boxy perspective.

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

The video from Glyndebourne shows Deborah Warner’s minimalistic production focused on the Personenregie in the action updated to our days, the guests in Don Giovanni’s party dancing nightclub style to the on-stage banda. There is nothing terribly innovative in the Dramaturgie, but singers are well directed and seem comfortable with what they have to do. 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 singers in difficult situations, especially in the act 1 finale. It is understandable that some of them are now and then behind the  beat, such as in the impossibly fast Champagne aria. The period-instrument orchestra offers superb playing – and I used to recommend this as a safe-buy item – but the recorded sound is too variable for a full recommendation. Sometimes balance is so poor that we can hardly hear the singers. In the opening scene, for instance. Hillevi Martinpelto’s pure-toned, stylish Donna Anna consistently brings pleasure to the ears. Once misses sometimes a bit legato in long, high-lying lines, but not in poised, absolutely glitch-free Non mi dir. Adrianne Pieczonka is a firm-toned Donna Elvira, rather short in the lower end of her soprano and monochrome in tone, her Italian lacking spontaneity. Juliane Banse’s warm, felt-like soprano offers a good contrast in the role of Zerlina. She sings with affection too. John Mark Ainsley has moments of instability and yet sings with real finesse and has amazingly clear divisions. Gilles Cachemaille lacks tone as Don Giovanni and can be erratic in his phrasing. He does mellow and produces a more honeyed tone when necessary. The director keeps him overbusy on stage and sometimes this stands between him and faultless vocalisation. Solid in tone and quite idiomatic in his delivery of the text, Steve Page proves himself an animated, fully satisfying Leporello. Roberto Scaltriti is again a firm-toned Masetto, and Gudjon Oskarsson is here in far better voice than he would for Daniel Harding (SEE ABOVE) – a forceful performance.

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

Mozart was one of Charles Mackerras’s specialities, and his Don Giovanni is an evidence of that in its structural coherence, clarity of articulation and the naturalness of his beat, flexible without exaggerations. There is a palpable sense of teamwork and one finds here sense of theatre normally associated to live performances. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays nimbly, woodwind perfectly balanced, but the resonant acoustics of the venue recording make transparence impossible. Christine Brewer’s big, smoky soprano takes surprisingly well to legato, coloratura and mezza voce in the part of Donna Anna. She makes a peculiar pairing with Felicity Lott’s light-toned Donna Elvira. The English soprano sings with her costumery intelligence, sense of style and solid technique, and yet in this role her voice sounds too often strained and colorless. Zerlina is Nuccia Focile’s best role in the Da Ponte trilogy. Her voice still spreads in its high reaches, but she finds the right balance between earthiness and poise. Being Italian, she handle the recitatives adeptly. Jerry Hadley is not entirely at home as Don Ottavio, the tone too beefed up around the passaggio too often between him and ideal legato. Boje Skovhus is an intelligent, vocally varied Don Giovanni, even if his acquaintance with the language of Dante is incomplete. On the other hand, Alessandro Corbelli is an idiomatic, alert Leporello. His baritone, however, is sometimes too grainy, especially in his high register. Umberto Chiummo is well cast as the Commendatore and Masetto, his portrayal of each role so specific that one barely notices that it is the same singer. The edition here offers both the Vienna and the Prague versions for the scenes after the 2nd act sextet – so one gets to hear Leporello’s Ah, pietà signori miei both as aria and recitative plus the razor duet with Zerlina. There is also the concert version of the overture as an appendix.

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

Sigiswald Kuijken’s live recording of Don Giovanni is a fine souvenir for those who attended these concerts. The Petite Bande offers light, clear yet not very substantial playing and the recorded sound is natural. Kuijken’s conducting is wise to a fault – tempi, accents and phrasing are chosen exclusive on the safe side of the scale of possibilities. Although one can hear that he avoids what he considers Romantic influence, by choosing excessively objective approach to moments like the sprightly Anna/Elvira/Ottavio trio or the matter-of-fact Non mi dir. There is very little trade off, however, in moments like the appearance of the stone guest, which is almost as  heavy and uneventful and inflexible as a recording from the 1950’s, albeit with gut strings and valveless brass. The cast adds very little interest to the proceedings. Elena Vink is a brittle and very light-toned Donna Anna. She handles the coloratura cleanly, but what she can provide as an Ersatz for an important tone is basically shrillness. Christina Högman too offers a lightweight Donna Elvira, and yet her soprano is pleasant on the ear and she fulfils the minimal requirement of firmness, poise and tonal appeal. Nancy Argenta’s Zerlina sounds even lighter, but the voice is bell-toned and she sings with affection. Rather dry in tone, Markus Schäfer squeezes his high notes as Don Ottavio and does not really caresses his lines as a Mozart tenor should. Werner van Mechelen’s Don Giovanni comes across as rather woolly and greyish in tone. Hubert Claessens barely copes with Leporello in a voice very short in resonance and color and his single expressive tool turns around parlando effects. Harry van der Kamp has the notes but not the weight or darkness of voice for the part of the Commendatore. The edition eschews the Vienna arias – Dalla sua Pace and Mi tradì.

Michela Remor (Donna Anna), Alice Forgiero (Donna Elvira), Silvia Tro Santafé (Zerlina), Bruno Lazzaretti (Don Ottavio), Umberto Chiummo (Don Giovanni), Andrea Concetti (Leporello), Massimiliano Gagliardo (Masetto), Michele Bianchini (Il 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 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 shows herself as 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.

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

Arguably the safest choice in this discography, John Eliot Gardiner’s CDs were recorded in the context of live performances at the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele. Gardiner’s conducting is at once animated without exaggerations in terms of tempo, dramatic in accent and coherent in terms of structure. The English Baroque Soloists offer playing of unusual richness for a period instrument orchestra and absolute clarity of articulation. Both finali are outstanding – especially the finale ultimo, probably the most exciting you’ll ever hear. The recorded sound is very natural and ideally balanced, and it is hard to believe that this was mostly captured in front of an audience. Another argument for the choice of this recording as a single item in your collection is the appendix that enable the listener to choose between the alternatives numbers in the Prague and the Vienna editions. Luba Orgonasová’s velvety, vibrant soprano finds no difficulties in the role of Donna Anna – and she sings with poise, sense of style and breathtaking pianissimi. Charlotte Margiono’s Donna Elvira sounds rather pale in comparison. Even if the tone is smoky and light for the part, she too is an accomplished Mozartian and offer a technically unproblematic and engaged account of her role. Eirian James is a mezzo Zerlina, yet one hardly notices that. Her high notes are easy and she never sounds matronly, but rather sexy, even if the voice is not memorable per se. Christoph Prégardien’s high register is a tad wooden, but other than this he sings the part of Don Ottavio in a warm, velvety tenor and a self-composed elegance that makes us believe when he says that his fiancé can see a father in him. Even if his baritone is on the light side and there are rough patches here and there, Rodney Gilfry has the necessary tonal appeal to his Don Giovanni. It is no wonder that he offers the best serenade in the discography. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s rock-solid Leporello is well contrasted in his straightforward approach and idiomatic Italian. Finally, Andrea Silvestrelli is the most frightening of Commendatori. His is the darkest bass you will ever find in this part and voluminous enough to create the right effect when he appears to drag Don Giovanni to hell.

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

Although EMI’s studio recording with the London Classical Players does not feature a glamorous cast, it deserves its recommendation among releases of higher profile due to the outstanding orchestral playing under Roger Norrington’s intelligent, structurally transparent conducting. This is a performance where nothing is bureaucratic or predictable. The conductor’s investigation of this score involves that each number is conceived without prejudiced notions, balance, tempo, accent and phrasing all in service of clarity. Compared with John Eliot Gardiner’s almost contemporary recording, one finds here a more evident driving force in the maestro in charge. The overture and opening scene go relentlessly forward and nothing sounds to the only purpose of prettiness. But even briskness is not an end in itself; more complex numbers, such as the full ensemble in the first finale or the act 2 sextet are surprisingly slower in the conductor’s intent of making his listener hear everything Mozart wrote there. And again: the London Classical Players offer superlative playing – rich, full-toned, crystal-clear, immaculate in articulation. This is the kind of performance in which the cast takes second place, but the truth is that only the ladies here are somewhat lacklustre. Amanda Halgrimson is a light-toned Donna Anna, a bit acidulous and edgy in tone, but on top of all challenges in her part, including dexterous coloratura and easy high notes.  Lynne Dawson sounds rather shallow in the role of Donna Elvira and her Italian is accented – and yet she too handles the difficulties Mozart concocted for her without much ado. We find Nancy Argenta again as a bell-toned Zerlina, here more spontaneous and charming than she would be for Kuijken (SEE ABOVE). John Mark Ainsley is a flexible Don Ottavio, a tad unstable in his high notes, somewhat more anonymous in interpretation compared to his performance for Kreizberg (SEE ABOVE). Andreas Schmidt does not try to make his Don Giovanni suave or seductive. His is an aptly bossy approach in a rather ruling-class manner. Vocally, one hears an attractive tonal quality, the roughness kept at hand’s distance. He is extremely well-contrasted with the rich-, dark-voiced Leporello of Gregory Yurisic, in excellent voice and vivid in his response to the text. The young Gerald Finley proves to be an unexpected perk in this CDs. Alastair Miles round off the cast in a strong, vehement performance. The recording has an extra advantage of allowing the listener to opt for the Vienna or the Prague performance in blocks. That means, rather than programming an alternative number, you can opt for having the performance flow entirely in one edition (or the other). The recorded sound is exemplary.

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

With the Berlin Philharmonic and a cast worthy of a recording of Wagner’s Parsifal, Daniel Barenboim offers a decidedly Romantic view of Don Giovanni, yet not helplessly heavy as one could have imagined. Whenever the atmosphere is Beethovenian, as in the overture and the finale ultimo, Barenboim conducts it as if it were Wagner, big orchestral sound, punchy accents and an indulgent beat. In the more immediately Mozartian numbers, there is this sensation of slackness, magnified by spacious, resonant recorded sound. The Berlin Philharmonic responds adeptly, providing dense, rich sonorities and even reasonable flexibility in this unfavourable context. Lella Cuberli’s soprano sounds at its grainiest, what tampers a bit with purity of line, but other than this her Donna Anna is competently sung. In her single Mozart opera recording, Waltraud Meier (Donna Elvira) came to battle with the wrong weaponry. She lacks tonal poise and her voice requires noticeably slower tempi to move. Also, her interpretation involves fussing with words and snarling in a way that seems everything but Mozartian. Properly cast as Zerlina, Joan Rodgers cannot help sounding more convincing in this repertoire, even if she sparkles only occasionally. Uwe Heilmann’s tenor is afflicted by permanent flutter, but his performance here is far more solid than what one can hear in Abbado’s recording (SEE ABOVE). His voice has an attractive color and he sings both Don Ottavio’s arias stylishly. A famous and well documented Leporello, Ferruccio Furlanetto is here cast as Don Giovanni. However, it seems Leporello is somehow there. The Italian bass sings it in a distinctively buffo approach, overpronounced consonants, emphatic accents and an avoidance of legato making it very confusing for the listener, especially when we have a Wotan as Leporello, John Tomlinson makes a serious effort in lightening his tone, but it all sounds like a sumo fighter dancing ballet. Michele Pertusi is glamorous casting as Masetto, and Matti Salminen arguably offers here his best Commendatore.

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

Michael Hampe’s production has been previously featured on video in Salzburg (SEE BELOW for Karajan) and makes a second appearance in Cologne, with James Conlon conducting. The smaller stage makes it more effective in terms of direction, but the absence of audience and the extra lighting are not truly helpful. If the orchestra had been more clearly recorded, it could certainly be one of the less problematic Don Giovannis on video. The conductor gives a vivid account of the score, with prominent woodwind – only loosing his way when rhythms are less obvious. In these moments, the proceedings like momentum and clarity. Ensemble should be more polished too. Carolyn James has a good voice for Donna Anna – big, high and full-toned. She is not adept in mezza voce, and her coloratura is workmanlike. In the role of Donna Elvira, 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 often metallic and her tonal palette is restricted, but she consistently produces a clean line in the part of Zerlina. Kjell Magnus Sandve’s throaty tenor is foreign to Mozartian style and not truly at home as Don Ottavio. Don Giovanni does not seem a good role for Thomas Allen live in the theatre. In the Muti set, he becomes hoarse in the first act. Here, only in second act his problem with low notes begin to appear and mar an otherwise compelling performance. Ferruccio Furlanetto is again an excellent Leporello (SEE ABOVE for Levine, SEE BELOW for Karajan). Last but not least, Matthias Hölle offers a fully satisfying performance as the Commendatore.

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

In his studio set, Riccardo Muti seems to advocate the thesis that Don Giovanni is a proto-romantic work, a pre-Beethovenian attempt in Musikdrama. Serious episodes receive the heavy-handed treatment and succumb under the weight of a mighty string section and stodgy tempi.  The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic remains stylish and flexible,  even in the resonant acoustics, exaggerated by the rather unfocused, bass-oriented recorded sound. Although the singers gather here are individually apt for their roles, and yet they do not form a coherent cast. Their voices and styles are sometimes too different for ensemble, and there is a studio-bound atmosphere in their interpretations. Donna Anna is probably the best suited among Mozartian roles for Cheryl Studer. She brings her forceful high notes, expressive phrasing and customary flexibility, but one cannot help noticing that she is constantly scaling down, producing somewhat flaccid lines and under the note attack. Carol Vaness is again a top-notch Donna Elvira, warm-, creamy-toned  and here more willing to sing softly than usually. Suzanne Mentzer sounds rather lackluster as Zerlina, rather thick-toned and heavy-footed. Frank Lopardo offers very little tonal appeal as Don Ottavio and tackles his part without much imagination or elegance. William Shimmell comes across as rather faceless as Don Giovanni, his baritone a bit rough-edged and lacking poise. In terms of voice, technique and sense of style, Samuel Ramey could be said to outclass all his colleagues in the role of Leporello. However, he does not, sounding too grand and commanding for the servant’s role. Jan-Hendrik Rootering comes across as a bit woolly and nasal-toned Commendatore.

Sharon Sweet (Donna Anna), Karita Mattila (Donna Elvira), Marie McLaughlin (Zerlina), Francisco Araiza (Don Ottavio), Thomas Allen (Don Giovanni), Simone Alaimo (Leporello), Claudio Otelli (Masetto), Robert Lloyd (Il 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 and 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. That said, this is a clear “safe choice” item in the discography, an expertly executed performance that does not challenge anyone’s ideas about this work but rather flatters the audience in its absence of drawbacks. The cast has good chemistry, and recitatives are done in a convincingly theatrical way. Sharon Sweet is here 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 too is a large-scale Elvira, singing the Italian text with animation and a velvety if a bit sometimes anonymous tonal quality. Her singing is not immaculate – especially in her big aria – but the fulness of sound is refreshing. Marie McLaughlin is a sexy, fruity Zerlina who matches the vocal heft of the other ladies in the cast. Francisco Araiza may have sounded smoother in other Mozart recordings, but the occasional roughness does build into his macho approach to Don Ottavio. The recording studio offer Thomas Allen ideal circumstances to deploy his imagination and finesse in terms of interpretation. It is a characterful, detailed account of the role, sung with unfailing technique. Experienced from his Rossini performances, Simone Alaimo knows from inside out the buffo repertoire of tricks. Now and then one would expect a clearer, firmer line, but idiomatic quality of his singing and the sense of humor are compensation enough. Robert Lloyd is an intense, dark-toned Commendatore.

Sona Ghazarian (Donna Anna), Gertrud Ottenthal (Donna Elvira), Patrizia Pace (Zerlina), Giuseppe Sabbatini (Don Ottavio), Renato Bruson (Don Giovanni), Nicola Ghiuselev (Leporello), Stefano Rinaldi-Miliani (Masetto), Franco de Grandis (Il 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 realising how the title role sounds more demanding when sung without “acting with the voice”. Second, although the circumstances do 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 in the part of Don Ottavio. 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 preferable as Zerlina here than she would be for Abbado (SEE ABOVE). Another positive 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 often sounds hard pressed and pinched. Intonation is frequently approximative and there are some strange sounds can be heard now and then. Curiously, when things get very difficult, she can surprise you by singing a high note piano or producing ornaments a tempo. Gertrud Ottenthal too is miscast as  Donna Elvira, her voice short in both ends of her range. 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 makes more blunders than anyone else.

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

In Arnold Östman’s studio recording, one finds a performance of unusual insight and understanding of Mozartian phraseology. The Swedish conductor seems to be no preconceived notion about each number and shows new possibilities that boost thematic clarity but also explore new dramatic possibilities in each number. On listening to his La ci darem la mano, one has no doubt about Don Giovanni’s and Zerlina’s real intentions there. On listening to the overture, one might think that this is yet another superfast period-instrument performance, but one soon discovers that the choices of tempi are here dictated by structural clarity, and some numbers are actually slower than what we’re used to hear in the conductor’s intent of making you hear everything Mozart wrote and implied in his score. This will never be your go-to recording of Don Giovanni, but one you are going to listen to when you feel that there is still a thing or two you have to learn about this opera. The wiry orchestral playing might be the main drawback in these CDs. Indeed, the strings lack substance and come across as rather scrawny. The prominence of woodwind in the final blend could be counted as some sort of compensation. That said, the recorded sound is natural and singers do not need much help from the microphones in these circumstances. Arleen Augér is a light-toned Donna Anna, nimble in coloratura, unfazed by the high tessitura and truly acquainted with the style. Her Or sai chi l’onore is a lesson of how to produce drama without forcing one’s voice. Della Jones embraces the mezzo carattere approach and sings the part of Donna Elvira with a splash of buffo that those used to more dramatic interpretations may find hard to accept. A mezzo soprano, she tiptoes in some high-lying passages but generally is comfortable with what she has to sing. Barbara Bonney’s pure-toned soprano often sounds too angelic for Zerlina, and yet this is a voice made for Mozart and the necessary sexiness won’t be too missed. Nico van der Meel sounds like a Bach tenor in a Mozart opera. Moreover, he is not very comfortable demands of his aria, even if the tonal quality is pleasant enough. In the title role, HÃ¥kan HagegÃ¥rd seems more comfortable in mezza voce than in full voice, when his tone sounds a bit metallic and harsh. His Don Giovanni is built on a sugar-rush approach, which ideally requires an Italian a bit less Scandinavian in accent. Gilles Cachemaille is not the richest-toned Leporello in the discography, and he often sounds too cool for the circumstances. That said, slim as it is, the tonal quality is not devoid of velvet and, by virtue of word-pointing, there is some wit and charm in his performance. Kristinn Sigmundsson too sounds rather cool as the Commendatore, and yet the sound is dark and imposing enough. The young Bryn Terfel as Masetto is a surprise treat in the cast. Östman follows the Prague edition, and has the Vienna additions and variations in the third CD.

Dominique Labelle (Donna Anna), Lorraine Hunt (Donna Elvira), Ai Lan Zhu (Zerlina), Carroll Freeman (Don Ottavio), Eugene Perry (Don Giovanni), Herbert Perry (Leporello), Elmore James (Masetto), James Patterson (Il 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 aided 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.

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

In his studio recording, Nikolaus Harnoncourt offers a performance strongly reliant in dramatic accents and rich orchestral sound rich in expressive details, but short in forward movement and often lacking atmosphere. The recorded sound is clear and balances well soloists and the outstanding playing of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Although the conductor at times favours an almost impressionistic, the string section copes admirably with the whimsical beat and sustain clarity throughout. Edita Gruberová’s soprano is a bit short in the lower end of her range, but other than this offers a superlative account of the role of Donna Anna, clear in tone, accurate in coloratura, stylish in phrasing and sensitive in interpretation. Roberta Alexander is an impassioned Donna Elvira, if edgy in tone and technically challenged in her big aria. Barbara Bonney leaves nothing to be desired as Zerlina, here creamier in tone and even more charming that in Arnold Östman’s recording (SEE ABOVE). Hans-Peter Blochwitz does not sound at his best here, dry in his high notes and a bit short in breath. Thomas Hampson offers a blustery Don Giovanni, rather mannered in his delivery of the text and sometimes rough in tone. Laszlo Polgár, on the other hand, is discreet to a fault as Leporello – and also quite woolly in his high notes and not ideally idiomatic. In any case, his Italian is superior to Anton Scharinger’s, whose approach to the language of Dante is hit-or-miss. Roberto Holl’s bass sounds unfocused and greyish in tone in the role of the Commendatore. 

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

The video from La Scala shows a production by Giorgio Strehler that exemplifies why traditional stagings like that are no longer seen in the most important theatres in the world – it adds no insight into the libretto in its stand-and-deliver Personenregie and lugubrious, vacuous  costume and set designs. Riccardo Muti’s musical direction only occasionally comes to life. When it does – such as in the act 1 finale -  in which one can hears the best terzetto delle maschere in the discography – one can hear that the house orchestra is tested when tempi are really fast. To make things a little bit worse, the recorded sound does not capture the orchestra with absolute clarity, defeating the conductor’s efforts to keep ideal balance even in the most complex ensembles. In these circumstances, Muti’s temptation in romanticizing the score now and then feels a bit pointless. On paper, he has an ideal cast, but the actual event shows some of these singers not at their best. Edita Gruberová is a clear exception. Not encouraged to produce the mannerisms that sometimes disfigure her singing, she offers here her best Donna Anna, undisturbed by technical demands and imbued in the best Mozartian tradition. If Ann Murray copes with the soprano tessitura without much ado, her voice sounds here invariably unfocused and harsh in tone. To her favor, her Italian is vivid and she finds no difficulties in producing mezza voce. Suzanne Mentzer is the second mezzo in a soprano role here. Her voice is creamy and warm, but she sparks very little and comes across as a rather unsmiling Zerlina. Nobody disputes Francisco Araiza’s status as the Mozartian tenor of his generation. However, the comparison with other recordings with the same tenor shows that he was not at his smoothest voice here, especially in Dalla sua pace, where he struggles a bit with his mezza voce. Thomas Allen is by far the best actor in the cast and his interaction with Claudio Desderi’s Leporello is the only theatrical element in the stage performance. Unfortunately, his singing as Don Giovanni proves to be a bumpy ride. A slight fatigue in act 1 becomes something very close to hoarseness in act 2, when he mostly “acts with the voice”. Desderi is here past his prime, produces mostly a straight, tense sound, tiptoes in his high notes and abuses of parlando effects. He is a shrewd performer and makes the best of all that and gets away with all that on sheer charisma. Natale de Carolis is one of those Masetto who mistakes rusticity with roughness, while Sergei Koptchak sounds woolly and tremulous as the Commendatore.

Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Donna Anna), Julia Varady (Donna Elvira), Kathleen Battle (Zerlina), Gösta Winbergh (Don Ottavio), Samuel Ramey (Don Giovanni), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), Alexander Malta (Masetto), Paata Burchuladze (Il Commendatore), Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

Herbert von Karajan’s last recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni was taped in the Grosses Festspielhaus two years before his death. This performance is a memento of late Karajan’s approach to Mozart – tempi are not necessarily slow, but they bear a certain weight, which matched by the smoothed over phrasing of the string section, give a fuzzy impression in terms of structural clarity. The final scene sounds especially ponderous. In any case, the live – thanks to Sony’s recorded sound and the nimbler playing of the Vienna Philharmonic – is preferable to the DGG studio recording made before the première of Michael Hampe’s high-budget if bureaucratic (and dimly lit, as Karajan used to like) production in Salzburg. At this point of her career, Anna Tomowa-Sintow’s vibrant soprano was too rich for the filigrees of Mozartian phrasing. She could fine it down to floating pianissimo when necessary and offeres some powerful, round acuti in Or sai chi l’onore, but Non mi dir sound gusty and arthritic. On the other hand, Julia Varady’s tightly focused soprano, forceful both in high and low notes, is the right instrument for Donna Elvira. However, her cavalier treatment to the text is hard to overlook. Sometimes, one has the impression she is choosing random consonants, not to mention the moments she just left them unpronounced. Kathleen Battle offers a charming, silvery Zerlina. Gösta Winbergh is sometimes emphatic as Don Ottavio, but it is hard to imagine someone else who can tackle the role with such technical finesse in a large auditorium as he does here. No one would call Samuel Ramey is not the most imaginative Don Giovanni in the world, but the voice is commanding and he is comfortable with the leading man attitude in the title role. Ferruccio Furlanetto can’t help stealing the show as Leporello. He has the ideal voice for the role, handles the text in his native Italian with perfect comedy timing and acts superbly. A rather mature Masetto, Alexander Malta has his funny moments. Paata Burchuladze did have a voice more than large enough for the Commmendatore, but also unsteady and guttural.

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

Although Don Giovanni has the most stellar cast among Arnold Östman’s videos recorded in Drottningholm, it is probably the less attractive in the lot. The recorded sound has poor balance and can turn out unfocused while the image leaves something to be desired in terms of sharpness. If one wants to sample Östman conducting, I strongly recommended going for the studio recording, for the orchestral playing here is less than acceptable: wiry strings, erratic brass, unclear articulation, there is very little to cherish. Also, in order to accommodate the orchestra’s lack of proficiency, the conductor adopts some cautious tempi that only expose the meagerness of sound. Helena Döse treads cautiously as Donna Anna in her intent to adjust to period performance practices. She copes rather well with the role’s demands, but intonation is not immaculate and there is not much to write about in terms on interpretation. When one reads “Prague edition”, one tends to regret the loss of Mi tradì. Birgit Nordin’s nasal, grainy soprano, small-scaled even for the size of this performance does not make one feel like hearing more from Donna Elvira. Anita Soldh has the right voice for Zerlina and sings with sense of style if little imagination. Gösta Winbergh easily calls attention in this cast but there is very little advantage in hearing him in this small venue, for he is clearly a large-format Don Ottavio, better heard both live and in studio under Karajan around the same time. HÃ¥kan HagegÃ¥rd offers here an entirely misguided performance, in which Don Giovanni is shown as an effete gentleman with a disturbing r moscia, unidiomatic Italian and an unbearably metallic vocal production. When he tries to ape Leporello’s voice in act 2, one can’t repress the relief of being spared a couple of minutes of having to listen to what he has been doing to this point. The fact that Erik Saeden’s woolly baritone gains a new focus when it is Leporello’s turn to imitate the voice of Don Giovanni only shows that there is something wrong with this performance. Tord Wallström’s “regular”-sounding baritone in the role of Masetto stands out among these and baritones and basses, for Bengt Rundgren unfortunately is past his prime and quite rusty as the Commendatore.

Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Donna Anna), Agnes Baltsa (Donna Elvira), Kathleen Battle (Zerlina), Gösta Winbergh (Don Ottavio), Samuel Ramey (Don Giovanni), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), Alexander Malta (Masetto), Paata Burchuladze (Il Commendatore), Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

Two years before in studio, Karajan proves consistent in terms of approach with the live recording in Salzburg, but one takes some time to realize that. First, the Berlin Philharmonic responds more eagerly than its Viennese counterparts to late Karajan’s ideal of orchestral sound, producing here denser sonorities and smoothed out articulation one would more readily associate to Wagner than to Mozart. Then the recording engineers in Berlin give more prominence to the orchestra than in Salzburg. That said, as with many Karajan DGG recordings, balance sometimes seems a tad artificial. The closing scene here, for those very reasons, is more effective than live. The more natural acoustics in the Salzburg video are particularly helpful to understand the audience response to Anna Tomowa-Sintow’s Donna Anna. There one can sample the fulness and richness of her high notes, which compensate the excessive vibrancy that disfigure Mozartian lines, more noticeable in the studio, where her high register lacks the impact of the live performances. Also, her mezza voce would floated more consistently in the Grosses Festpielhaus. Agnes Baltsa’s Donna Elvira is a bit all over the place and some of the sounds she produce are not what one would call “Mozartian”. She offers nonetheless an impassioned performance and handles her recitatives with gusto. Kathleen Battle is even more effective in the studio, where her Zerlina is more detailed in terms of interpretation. Gösta Winbergh’s Don Ottavio too proves more stylish and poised in Berlin. Samuel Ramey’s Don Giovanni and Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Leporello are consistent with their performances in Salzburg, Furlanetto as theatrically alert as he would be in Michael Hampe’s staging. Paata Burchuladze, on the other hand, benefits from the studio conditions and offers clearer diction and firmer tone than live.

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

The shining feature of Rafael Kubelik’s studio recording is the playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, nimble in articulation, ideal in balance and pleasant in tone. The conductor sounds here primarily concerned with offering a transparent account of the score, tempi rather considerate and a rather abstract approach to drama. In spite of these singers’ attempts to infuse some life in the proceedings, recitatives are largely inert. Here heard as Donna Anna Julia Varady offers fluent coloratura, flashing high notes and stamina for the most outspoken moments. At times, she is stylish, pure-toned and musicianly,  but too often harsh in sound, generalized in interpretation and indifferent to the text. Arleen Augér, on the other hand, is dramatically engaged and technically fluent, but overparted as Donna Elvira, especially in Mi tradì. An experienced and reliable Zerlina, Edith Mathis sounds here grainy and a tad short in seduction. Thomas Moser’s vowels are too dark for the Italian language and, as a result, his Don Ottavio, dulcet in sound, comes across as rather unstable and matte in tone. Alan Titus’s bass baritone sometimes sounds too covered  and his dramatic engagement is sometimes impaired by lack of acquaintance with the text. The veteran Rolando Panerai is a rustic-sounding Leporello, the hard edges in his vocal production adding character to his singing. Jan-Hendrik Rootering sounds surprisingly clear and soft-centered as the Commendatore. 

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

Bernard Haitink offers a performance of unusual orchestral polish and clarity that only occasionally seems dramatically connected. When this happens, such as in the very end of the act 1 finale, one feels even more frustrated by what this recording could be if the conductor had infused it with real sense of theatre. This is particularly regrettable since these CDs are strongly cast. Carol Vaness, Donna Elvira for Conlon and Muti (SEE ABOVE), brings exceptional roundness of tone to the role of Donna Anna. Technically accomplished and stylish, she just lacks dynamic variety and a little bit more engagement. In excellent voice, Maria Ewing sings the part of Donna Elvira with unfailing intensity and concern for the text, investing even recitatives with admirable passion. Elizabeth Gale’s fruity soprano is tailor-made for the role of Zerlina and she phrases with charm. Keith Lewis sounds on the nasal side as Ottavio, but otherwise his is a commendable performance. If Richard Van Allan is not the richest-toned Leporello in the discography, the rough patches in the voice suggest a rather rustic character and he is unexaggeratedly funny.  Dmitri Kavrakos lacks color and impact for the Commendatore. Even in a strong cast, 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 scream in the discography when falling into the flames of hell.

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

Lorin Maazel’s studio recording is the soundtrack to Joseph Losey’s film, in which the action is transposed to Venice. There are beautiful images of palaces, gardens and gondolas, but the atmosphere (and  lighting and costumes and make-up) is so characteristic of the 1970’s that it is difficult not to label the whole thing “kitsch”. There are also problems with lip synch and some of the acting looks too grand for the camera. If Maazel’s conducting is balanced and precise in a rather unexciting way, the boxy acoustics make it difficult to say how clear it is, especially when singers are involved. The reverberation around voices and the recessed orchestra make this a hard sell. Edda Moser has all the elements of a great Donna Anna, but they do not sound under great control. The voice is hard-driven, phrasing is a bit bumpy and the dramatic intensity goes beyond the limits of Mozartian style. Kiri Te Kanawa is in exquisite voice as Donna Elvira and sings with elegance and charm. She lacks the required temper for the role, though, and her attempts to infuse her singing with some animation seem sometimes self-conscious. A mezzo Zerlina, Teresa Berganza does not seem fazed by the soprano part, but too often pecks at notes and lacks animation. Kenneth Riegel has more than a splash of the Charaktertenor in his singing as Don Ottavio and is here and there a bit heavy-handed. The only Italian in the cast, Ruggero Raimondi is a fascinatingly unsmiling Don Giovanni. He has the right voice for the part and, under better circumstances, could have done something even more powerful of the role. José van Dam proves to be an excellent Leporello, warm in tone, suave in phrasing, crispy in his delivery of the text. Malcolm King is a convincing Masetto, but John Macurdy comes across as a rather rough-toned Commendatore.

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

In Georg Solti’s 1978 studio recording, the parts are greater than the sum. When one tries to understand what exactly stands between this release and success, it is hard to put one’s finger on the weak link,  because the drawback lies in the combination of less than ideal orchestral playing by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and inadequate sound engineering by Decca. Singers and orchestra are caught in entirely different perspective, with a clear advantage for voices. The orchestra works hard for clear articulation, and one hears that in violins that have a splash of scrawniness in passagework and – most curiously – the full orchestra can sound heavy and indistinct. As a result, there is never ideal balance – one finds the performance wanting both when either clarity or impact is needed, even if Solti’s conducting itself can be urgent in the more dramatic passages. When the atmosphere is lighter, one misses some charm and some forward movement too. The cast, on the other hand, is glamorous. Margaret Price is an urgent Donna Anna, noble in her creamy tone and floated pianissimo and also capable of slancio, most notably 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 usual name in a Mozartian discography, but that did not prevent from offering a capable performance as Donna Elvira. Her metallic yet warm tone is apt and she finds many an interesting turn of phrase to present a complex and alluring character. It is not immaculate singing  (the tone can seem shrill or develop the hint of a hoot), but in the end she score more points than singers more readily labelled as “Mozartian”. Lucia Popp is an appealing bright yet 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 a secure, pitch-toned, not truly idiomatic Commendatore.

Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Donna Anna), Teresa Zylis-Gara (Donna Elvira), Edith Mathis (Zerlina), Peter Schreier (Don Ottavio), Sherrill Milnes (Don Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Dale Duesing (Masetto), John Macurdy (Il 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.

Horiana Branisteanu (Donna Anna), Rachel Yakar (Donna Elvira), Elizabeth Gale (Zerlina), Leo Goeke (Don Ottavio), Benjamin Luxon (Don Giovanni), Stafford Dean (Leporello), John Rawnsley (Masetto), Pierre Thau (Il Commendatore), The Glyndebourne Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernard Haitink

Antigone Sgourda (Donna Anna), Heather Harper, (Donna Elvira), Helen Donath (Zerlina), Luigi Alva (Don Ottavio), Roger Soyer (Don Giovanni), Geraint Evans (Leporello), Alberto Rinaldi (Masetto), Peter Lagger (Il 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 (highlights)
Rachel Mathes (Donna Anna), Sheila Armstrong (Donna Elvira), Ann Murray (Zerlina), Robert Tear (Don Ottavio), John Shirley-Quirk (Don Giovanni), Stafford Dean (Leporello), Arthur Jackson (Masetto), Don Garrard (Il 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.

Martina Arroyo (Donna Anna), Kiri Te Kanawa (Donna Elvira), Mirella Freni (Zerlina), Stuart Burrows (Don Ottavio), Ingvar Wixell (Don Giovanni), Wladimiro Ganzarolli (Leporello), Richard Van Allan (Masetto), Luigi Roni (Il 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.

Margaret Price (Donna Anna), Julia Varady (Donna Elvira), Lucia Popp (Zerlina), Hermann Winkler (Don Ottavio), Ruggero Raimondi (Don Giovanni), Stafford Dean (Leporello), Enrico Fissore (Masetto), Kurt Moll (Il Commendatore), Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Wolfgang Sawallisch

Gundula Janowitz (Donna Anna), Sena Jurinac (Donna Elvira), Olivera Miljakovic (Zerlina), Alfredo Kraus (Don Ottavio), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Don Giovanni), Sesto Bruscantini (Leporello), Walter Monachesi (Masetto), Dimiter Petkov (Il 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.

Gundula Janowitz (Donna Anna), Teresa Zylis-Gara (Donna Elvira), Olivera Miljakovic (Zerlina), Stuart Burrows (Don Ottavio), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Don Giovanni), Geraint Evans (Leporello), Rolando Panerai (Leporello), Victor von Halem (Il 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.

Claire Watson (Donna Anna), Christa Ludwig (Donna Elvira), Mirella Freni (Zerlina), Nicolai Gedda (Don Ottavio), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Don Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Paolo Montarsolo (Masetto), Franz Crass (Il 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.

Clara Ebers (Donna Anna), Adele Leigh (Donna Elvira), Bruna Rizzoli (Zerlina), Anton Dermota (Don Ottavio), James Pease (Don Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Wolfram Rath (Il Commendatore), Symphonie-Orchester des NDR Hamburg, Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg

Leyla Gencer (Donna Anna), Sena Jurinac (Donna Elvira), Mirella Freni (Zerlina), Richard Lewis (Don Ottavio), Cesare Siepi (Don Giovanni), Geraint Evans (Leporello), Robert Savoie (Masetto), David Ward (Il 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.

Teresa Stich-Randall (Donna Anna), Leyla Gencer (Donna Elvira), Graziella Sciutti (Zerlina), Luigi Alva (Don Ottavio), Mario Petri (Don Giovanni), Sesto Bruscantini (Leporello), Renato Cesari (Masetto), Heinz Borst (Il Commendatore), Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radiotelevisione Italiana, Milano, Francesco Mollinari-Pradelli

Leontyne Price (Donna Anna), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Donna Elvira), Graziella Sciutti (Zerlina), Cesare Valetti (Don Ottavio), Eberhard Wächter (Don Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Rolando Panerai (Leporello), Nicola Zaccaria (Il 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.

Joan Sutherland (Donna Anna), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Donna Elvira), Graziella Sciutti (Zerlina), Luigi Alva (Don Ottavio), Eberhard Wächter (Don Giovanni), Giuseppe Taddei (Leporello), Piero Cappuccilli (Masetto), Gottlob Frick (Il 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.

Sena Jurinac (Donna Anna), Maria Stader (Donna Elvira), Irmgard Seefried (Zerlina), Ernst Häfliger (Don Ottavio), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Don Giovanni), Karl Christian Kohn (Leporello), Ivan Sardi (Masetto), Walter Kreppel (Il Commendatore), RIAS-Kammerchor, Radio-Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Ferenc Fricsay

Elisabeth Grümmer (Donna Anna), Lisa della Casa (Donna Elvira), Rita Streich (Zerlina), Léopold Simoneau (Don Ottavio), Cesare Siepi (Don Giovanni), Fernando Corena (Leporello), Walter Berry (Masetto), Gottlob Frick (Il Commendatore), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Dimitri Mitropoulos

Teresa Stich-Randall (Donna Anna), Suzanne Dannco (Donna Elvira), Anna Moffo (Zerlina), Nicolai Gedda (Don Ottavio), Antonio Campo (Don Giovanni), Marcello Cortis (Leporello), André Vessières (Masetto), Raffaele Arié (Il 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.

Suzanne Danco (Donna Anna), Lisa della Casa (Donna Elvira), Hilde Güden (Zerlina), Anton Dermota (Don Ottavio), Cesare Siepi (Don Giovanni), Fernando Corena (Leporello), Walter Berry (Masetto), Kurt Böhme (Il 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 .

Mary Curtis Verna (Donna Anna), Carla Gavazzi (Donna Elvira), Elda Ribetti (Zerlina), Cesare Valletti (Don Ottavio), Giuseppe Taddei (Don Giovanni), Italo Tajo (Leporello), Vito Susco (Masetto), Antonio Zerbini (Il Commendatore), Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radiotelevisione Italiana, Torino, Max Rudolf

Hilde Zadek (Donna Anna), Sena Jurinac (Donna Elvira), Graziella Sciutti (Zerlina), Léopold Simoneau (Don Ottavio), George London (Don Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Eberhard Wächter (Masetto), Ludwig Weber (Il Commendatore), Wiener Kammerchor, Wiener Symphoniker, Rudolf Moralt

Hilde Zadek (Donna Anna), Maud Cunitz (Donna Elvira), Rita Streich (Zerlina), Léopold Simoneau (Don Ottavio), George London (Don Giovanni), Benno Kusche (Leporello), Horst Günter (Masetto), Ludwig Weber (Il Commendatore), Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester und Chor, Otto Klemperer

Elisabeth Grümmer (Donna Anna), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Donna Elvira), Erna Berger (Zerlina), Anton Dermota (Don Ottavio), Cesare Siepi (Don Giovanni), Otto Edelmann (Leporello), Walter Berry (Masetto), Deszö Ernster (Il Commendatore), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Wilhelm Furtwängler

Elisabeth Grümmer (Donna Anna), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Donna Elvira), Erna Berger (Zerlina), Anton Dermota (Don Ottavio), Cesare Siepi (Don Giovanni), Otto Edelmann (Leporello), Walter Berry (Masetto), Rafaele Arié (Il Commendatore), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Wilhelm Furtwängler

Ljuba Welitsch (Donna Anna), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Donna Elvira), Irmgard Seefried (Zerlina), Anton Dermota (Don Ottavio), Tito Gobbi (Don Giovanni), Erich Kunz (Leporello), Alfred Poell (Masetto), Josef Greindl (Il Commendatore), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Wilhelm Furtwängler


Rose Bampton (Donna Anna), Jarmila Novotna (Donna Elvira), Bidú Sayão (Zerlina), Charles Kullman (Don Ottavio), Ezio Pinza (Don Giovanni), Alexander Kipnis (Leporello), Mark Harrell (Masetto), Norman Cordon (Il 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.