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Mozart: Don Giovanni / Fischer-Dieskau, Berry, Grummer, Fricsay

Mozart / Fischer-dieskau / Grummer
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101574  
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Erika KöthWalter BerryPilar LorengarDonald Grobe,   ... 
Conductor:  Ferenc Fricsay
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper ChorusBerlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Don Giovanni Ferenc Fricsay, cond; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau ( Don Giovanni ); Walter Berry ( Leporello ); Elisabeth Grümmer ( Donna Anna ); Pilar Lorengar ( Donna Elvira ); Donald Grobe ( Don Ottavio ); Erika Köth ( Zerlina ); Ivan Sardi Read more ( Masetto ); Josef Greindl ( Commendatore ); German Op O/Ch ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 574 (2 DVDs: 176:00) Live: Berlin 9/23/61

Four years ago, in Fanfare 30:4, I reviewed the audio of this broadcast (Golden Melodram 5.0059). It had been in circulation since at least the late 1970s. Listening to it again while watching the original Deutsche Opern Berlin visuals (a dress rehearsal that was first broadcast the following night, while the actual premiere of the production was in progress) doesn’t change most of my opinions of the performance. To summarize what you’ll hear, then:

Ferenc Fricsay is varied in his pacing, taut and dramatic in his conducting. Only an insensitively fast penultimate scene and the Champagne Aria are misjudged. Elsewhere, he is more sympathetic to his performers than in the commercial release he conducted. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is better, too, than in his 1958 Deutsche Grammophon version, where his attempts at character all too often led to a kind of ugly Sprechstimme. His “Deh vieni alla finestra” is a delight. Walter Berry is a marvel, while Ivan Sardi sounds off form, and Josef Greindl reveals some pitch issues, despite that beautiful, dark timbre of his. Donald Grobe sings his two solos with caressing softness and fine cantilena . You can’t go wrong with that.

The ladies are a mix. Pilar Lorengar has no problem with the notes but seems largely uninvolved, as her “Tu sai chi l’onore” demonstrates. Elisabeth Grümmer sounds careful and at times unsteady of voice, nowhere near as good as in her 1954 Glyndebourne performance. However, Erika Köth produces one of the best Zerlinas on record, softening her bright, soubrette sound (she was a celebrated Despina) into something resembling vocal sex—at least, for Mozart. “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” could melt a signpost, and her duet with Fischer-Dieskau, “Là ci darem la mano,” is one of the highlights of the proceedings.

Carl Ebert, general manager of the Städtische Oper in Charlottenburg at the time, was stepping down from his post, but first decided to stage this production. By modern standards it is hammy and stagebound, in the sense that most of its performers (with the exception of Berry) sing and emote to the audience, employing broad stock gestures with little focus. The duel is singularly unconvincing. But he knows how to move his people around the stage in convincing formations, and how to pose them effectively; and at that time, getting opera singers to act outside of a dedicated stage company under a brilliant, articulate tyrant like Felsenstein was probably next to impossible. Georges Wakhevitch is responsible for the abstractly sketched backdrops suggesting Italianate towers, and the dark, winding, expressionistic stairways that clash with the authentic costuming. Rolf Unkel’s camerawork usually focuses on medium shots, and sometimes iris filters to startling effect. (They were popular as late as the 1930s, but not for long afterward.) The combination of posed singers, traditional costuming, and iris shots at times brings to mind turn-of-the-20th-century opera photos.

The sound is good mono. The video has an excellent range of grey tones, but is sometimes soft-focused. There’s no visible stock deterioration, and none of the lighting artifacts all too common even in late analog productions of the 1970s. Sound is PCM mono, and picture format 4:3. Remember, the production is in German, though subtitles are in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Korean.

I can hardly praise this production for strong acting or unified production values, but the chance to watch some of the finest performers of the time will no doubt offer enough incentive for purchase to many vintage opera fans. Recommended, with reservations duly noted.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal


Don Giovanni – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Komtur – Josef Greindl
Donna Anna – Elisabeth Grümmer
Don Ottavio – Donald Grobe
Donna Elvira – Pilar Lorengar
Masetto – Ivan Sardi
Zerlina – Erika Köth
Leporello – Walter Berry

Deutsche Oper Berlin Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Walter Hagen-Groll)
Ferenc Fricsay, conductor

Carl Ebert, stage director
Georges Wakhevitch, stage and costume designer

Opening performance of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, 24 September 1961.

Picture format: NTSC 4:3 B/W
Sound format: PCM Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Black & White
Subtitles: German, English, Italian, French, Spanish, Korean
Running time: 176 mins
No. of DVDs: 2 (2 x DVD 9)
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Works on This Recording

Don Giovanni, K 527 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Erika Köth (Soprano), Walter Berry (Bass Baritone), Pilar Lorengar (Soprano),
Donald Grobe (Tenor), Elisabeth Grümmer (Soprano), Josef Greindl (Bass),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Bass Baritone), Ivan Sardi (Tenor)
Conductor:  Ferenc Fricsay
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper Chorus,  Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1787; Prague 
Date of Recording: 09/24/1961 
Venue:  Live  Berlin, West Germany 
Length: 175 Minutes 59 Secs. 
Language: Italian 

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