I suspect that a better-cast Don Giovanni than this one would be hard to find nowadays. With ideal or near-ideal singers in six of the eight roles, this recording has to be considered among the best available, and I’m going all the way back to Böhm and Giulini. But to be honest, we must deal with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the conductor. He is a fine leader in Romantic operas, and here he does nothing noticeably wrong and the work never seems museum-bound. He generates a good amount of heat when needed (you sense this even in mid-overture, and the feeling is intensified in, say, Anna’s recit before “Or sai chi l’onore”); he is gentle in tender moments (a “Dalla sua pace” and “Vedrai carino” of greatRead more loveliness), but he offers no profile for the opera as a whole.
Happily, his singers are truly dramatic animals, and each of them gives us a vivid portrait, but the feeling is that they are leading him rather than the other way around. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra plays handsomely and with great nuance, and that should be enough, but you get the feeling that there was no over-riding decision about appoggiaturas, embellishments, use of rubato, etc.—each singer had his or her ideas and they were permitted. But I am carping; and once you experience the wisely emphasized inner voices of the orchestra, terrific wind playing, suppleness, and mostly marvelous singing, you’ll be swept away.
Best are the “Donnas”, the finest pairing since Sutherland and Schwarzkopf. Diana Damrau, the Donna Anna, is a high coloratura, as was Sutherland, though her sound is certainly slimmer. Both Martina Arroyo and Birgit Nilsson recorded the role; a heavier sound is permitted and may even be preferred. But Damrau is second to none: the fast music is phenomenal, as one might expect (including, in fact, a wild, impeccable riff at the end of “Or sai…”), but so are her exclamatory moments—vivid, full of character, and with all the mood changes anyone might desire. And if there is a greater Elvira on disc than Joyce DiDonato, I’d love to hear her. In this notoriously tough role to cast, DiDonato catches everything: the craziness, the desperation, the sadness (“Ah, taci ingiusto core” is gorgeous). She also catches all the notes, from top to bottom, fast, slow, long and short, all sung with a commitment that is fabulously intense. Her second-soprano sound never has been used to better effect: a perfect performance.
Bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo has a very dark tone and it is occasionally lugubrious; his second-act Serenade sounds weirdly glum and more like a lullaby. It is peculiarly accented—he could have used Karl Böhm’s guiding hand. But aside from the occasional crooning, he can be quite dazzling: “Finch’an del vino”, coming in at a staggering 1:14, is almost a study in madness, and so are his huge, repeated “Viva la liberta(s)” moments later. I missed true danger, however, and genuinely feel that this role should be sung by a lighter voice. And his voice is very different from that of the brighter-toned Luca Pisaroni as Leporello, who delivers a Catalog Aria more seductively (trying to “be” the Don?) than sarcastically. Together the two men work well, with fine give-and-take both outside the house in the first act and in the cemetery and at dinner in the last.
A surprisingly ideal reading comes from tenor Rolando Villazon as Don Ottavio. Back from a series of vocal crises, Mozart is like a balm to his voice, and his unique, thoughtful way of phrasing rarely has been put to better use. “Dalla sua pace” is caressing in new ways (even if you have your favorites), and yes, he has both the coloratura and the spectacular long breaths for “Il mio tesoro”. He really seems to listen to Anna when she speaks to him, and his slightly nasal tone is, somehow, wonderfully evocative, humanizing, and strong. Konstantin Wolff is a more sharply delineated Masetto than usual and he sings smoothly.
The two duds are an underpowered Commendatore from Vitalij Kowaljow (one would have welcomed a megaphone or some other gimmick for the final scene) and the squally Zerlina of Mojca Erdman, who decorates her second aria and sounds like a voice student gone wild: here is where a strong conductor would have slapped a singer’s face. The verdict? This Don may have a profile that’s neither golden age, classical, nor mistakenly Romantic, but it thrills time after time with (many of) its singers’ commitments and golden-age voices. Give it a serious listen, but do not discard, say, your Giulini (EMI), Gardiner (Archiv), Jacobs (HM), Mitropoulos (Sony, nla) or even the Krips (Decca). Whew!
Very good vocally, average orchestrallyJanuary 23, 2013By Troy K. (Oro Valley, AZ)See All My Reviews"I enjoyed most of the vocal work in this Don Giovanni quite a bit. DiDonato and Pisaroni are superb and I thought Villazon was very good as well (which somewhat surprised me because I would not think he was a good fit for Don Ottavio). The rest of the cast sings well without a weak performance. I was less happy with the conducting and orchestral contribution. There seemed to be a lack of energy and the orchestra sound is more recessed than I prefer. Nezet-Seguin was not a conductor I was familiar with before hearing this recording. I cannot say his work here is anything other than average. I also really hate the booklet essay. Instead of discussing the composer, the opera or its history, it goes on and on about the brillance of the conductor, the cast members and the orchestra. The booklet is simply promotional material of the worse kind and DG should be embarrassed to have printed this. Another minor complaint: how about identifying if the opera follows the Vienna or Prague version on the outside of the box? (It is a combination of both) My favorite Don Giovanni is John Eliot Gardiner's version, with Rene Jacobs being a close second. This does not challenge those favorites of mine."Report Abuse
One of the best...December 21, 2012By Michael Travis Risner (Denver, CO)See All My Reviews"This recording is delightful from start to fininsh. I agree with most of the other reviewers in that the conducting is relatively weak and lacks an overall vision for the work, but those things can be easily overlooked unless you're an orchestra snob. The singing is fine all around. I believe this to be the most stongly cast group of female singers for this opera on record. Damrau is a perfect light-dramatic Anna capturing both her inner confusion and outward malice toward the Don. DiDonato is simply the best Elvira I've ever heard. There isn't a better interpretation of the role out there. She owns the role from top to bottom. Villazon is serviceable as Ottavio - the Mozart light-lyric tenor is my least favorite fach, but it's refreshing to hear him again particularly in lighter repertoire. He is a wonderful musician even if the voice isn't quite as rich as before. I think Pisaroni and d'Arcangelo should have switched roles. I much prefer a lighter-voiced Don like Keenlyside or even Weisser compared to the black velvet of a true bass. Let me say that I feel like d'Arcangelo should have recorded this role and his Mozart CD ten years ago. The sound is big and rich and powerful, but I gave his Leporello under Gardiner and his Masetto under Abaddo another listen and that is the voice I want in the Don. It is simply too dark and husky for my taste. Technically, he's tough to beat. The line is good, the range is good, but the color is...not my favorite. He remains one of my favorite singers, just not my favorite Don. All in all I am very impressed by this recording. If you purchase opera for the orchestra, look somewhere else, but if you buy the singers (and why wouldn't you?) this is one to own!"Report Abuse
its okayOctober 24, 2012By alan fetterly (toronto, ON)See All My Reviews"Well this is my favorite opera ever. I still put the sutherland,alva, schwarzkopf,wachter at the top. this one is great. I am Canadian so the conductor is too and I think he is on his way up. The whole cast is remarkable, and a live taping to boot, but not in one performance I think. I have basically no complaints about this recording. I am not a purist at all but my objections are to the inerpolated notes that the women seem to or the conductor think should be put in for dramatic effect. Mozart did not write these notes on any score I have ever seen and although they are tastefully done I could live without them. In movie Mozart said just as many notes as I needed sire, different opera granted but you get my drift. Do not hesitate to buy this set, sound and singing are wondrous. I have many Dons and I love them all in their own way, this is one of the very best."Report Abuse