Notes and Editorial Reviews
The merits of live versus studio recording of opera have been much debated. On the face of it, a recording at a concert performance ought to represent the best of both worlds: there is an audience to provoke a response from the artists, and the precious sense of a performance unfolding in its correct sequence (instead of being pasted together), while there is none of the distraction of stage noise - and in this case, happily, there is virtually no sound at all from the audience, who make their presence noticed only when a subdued ripple of laughter comes through, notably when Leporello suggests that Giovanni" lasciar Ic donne" (give up women"), and then again a little later at Leporello's antics during the cruel seduction of
Elvira. Thankfully there is no applause.
So it is with some disappointment that I have to report that I found this version of the opera quite surprisingly wanting in dramatic force. It has many virtues: it is as finely disciplined as any other SolO performance, the orchestral playing is excellent, and the rhythms are crisp, strong and tautly held. There is a sense of spaciousness to the direction that is unusual these days (the recent Mackerras recording is markedly brisker). Solti concentrates on what you might call the main line of the music, a sort of broad-brush approach rather than a careful etching out of the detail. It isn't simply a matter of (for example) the woodwind being relegated to the background, for their contribution is clear and distinct. But there is a sense in which they are, as it were, expressively subordinated. I miss, largely in consequence, the kind of response to Mozart's quicksilver changes of mood that, to my mind, add both subtlety and force to the drama and depth to the characterization as well as urgency to the events portrayed.
Solti's tempos seem to me marginally (and sometimes more than that) slower than those generally favoured today. The recitative is mostly very deliberate. Many numbers are generously paced: listen for example to "Fuggi, erudele", Anna's "Or sai chi l'onore", the trio at the beginning of Act 2 or the Act 2 sextet, which is beautifully poised but serious in feeling even when farcical comedy is taking place on the stage and in the music. But there is certainly no want of power to the big ensembles, such as the Act I finale or the visit of the statue at the end, which is formidable.
I found Renée Fleming an impressive Anna: a big voice, but with a youthful tinge. consider able warmth and fullness of tone, and a hint of vulnerability: not the kind of Isolde voice you sometimes hear in this role. "Or sai" wants nothing in nobility; the coloratura of the final aria is well carried off but not seemingly with the comfort that derives from total security. There is some specially expressive singing from her in the Act 2 sextet. Elvira is sharply drawn by Ann Murray: a very aware. alive performance, sung with considerable intensity. There is a fine "Mi tradi". not particularly tense, but spacious, beautifully phrased, the awkward chromaticisms perfectly managed, and expansive and noble at the close. The Zerlina seems to me oddly, even misguidedly cast: Monica Groop, with her substantial, focused voice, does not for a moment sound like a country girt. The music is well enough sung, but to my mind there is not much wit or appropriate character to the performance.
Bryn Terfel, socially speaking upwardly mobile, has sung Masetto and Leporello before and now moves on to Giovanni. It is a splendidly sturdy, virile reading, large in scale, and done with enormous vitality (a truly brilliant Champagne Aria). He goes to his doom with splendid defiance. What is lacking, it seems to me, is the softer colouring that surely should be a part of Giovanni's repertory. There isn't much honey in the voice, and perhaps that is why the Serenade seems so unsuccessful: he depends excessively on gradation in volume and uses far too wide a range, from the oppressive to the almost inaudible. This seems a real miscalculation. His voice and Michele Pertusi's have just about sufficient contrast; Pertusi produces a vivacious "Madamina", with considerable depth of tone. and sings gracefully too he happily avoids the coarseness that some Leporellos allow themselves here. Herbert Lippert sings Ottavio with delicacy and softness and sensitive shading. and with hints of passion too; he is surely one of the most eloquent Mozart tenors around these days. Roberto Scaltriti provides a strong Masetto.
The opera, then, is very capably sung. If you want a direct, serious, welt-recorded performance that takes the work seriously and has a good modern east, this version demands to be considered.
-- Gramophone [10/1997]
reviewing the original release of this performance, Decca 455500
Works on This Recording
Don Giovanni, K 527 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Monica Groop (Mezzo Soprano),
Mario Luperi (Bass),
Michele Pertusi (Bass),
Ann Murray (Mezzo Soprano),
Bryn Terfel (Bass Baritone),
Renée Fleming (Soprano),
Roberto Scaltriti (Baritone),
Herbert Lippert (Tenor)
Sir Georg Solti
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Written: 1787; Prague
Date of Recording: 10/1996
Venue: Live Royal Festival Hall, London, England
Length: 163 Minutes 16 Secs.
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