Notes and Editorial Reviews
For once, it is a pleasure to report, in a Mozart opera on disc, many strengths and virtually no weaknesses. Schmidt is a vivid, mellifluous, technically sure Giovanni, with the ideal baritone voice for the role--not too light nor too bass-oriented. A very special Giovanni this.
A very special Giovanni this. In the first place we have, at last, the full performance of both the Prague and Vienna versions, recorded, as it were, alongside each other with all the attendant recitative. Then, as ever, Norrington has taken a searching and novel approach to the score. In his own explanatory notes, he gives his views on the music, choice of singers (predominantly light ones) to interpret it, speeds, and the advantages of his
distribution of the orchestra (an illustration shows us the placings in EMI's Abbey Road Studio No. 1). All these factors are even more revolutionary than in the Arnold Ostman version and won't, of course, please traditionalists. However, on this occasion—as opposed to his EMI Die Zauberflöte (11/91)--the results entirely justify Norrington's decisions on practically all counts. Everything that he describes in his writing seems to make sense in performance and in consequence we hear a dynamic, forward-moving, entirely convincing interpretation that holds the attention, indeed enlivens the spirit.
Because Norrington has handpicked his singers and players to suit his point of view, they obviously believe in what he and they are doing and execute the score accordingly, whereas others might find so fleet and disciplined an approach hard to manage. There is a sense of dedication and conviction on all sides. On this occasion it would be idle to dwell too much on a detailed description of the performance, for the whole is more important than the parts. You may find the so-called Champagne aria a shade on the deliberate side, the Trio of masks, the Serenade and Elvira's aria a little hurried, but as elements of a such a well-integrated whole such quibbles seem out of place. I was held from start to finish--at least in the Prague version: the Vienna is flawed by inferior music for Zerlina and Leporello, usually and rightly omitted. Norrington's instrumental placings certainly allow the wind due prominence.
The reading is enhanced by the swift treatment of recitative, the strict approach of the fortepiano support during its delivery, the excellent Italian on all sides, the generous inclusion of appoggiaturas, the delicacy of the decoration of reprises in arias and the sensible simulation of stage effects by David Murray, the discerning producer. A drawback to EMI's layout is that unless you have index facilities it is hard to programme the fairly satisfying conflation of both versions we usually hear in the theatre.
For once, it is a pleasure to report, in a Mozart opera on disc, many strengths and virtually no weaknesses. Best of all is the partnership between Giovanni and Leporello, their voices surely differentiated and each a pleasure to hear in itself. Schmidt is a vivid, mellifluous, technically sure Giovanni, with the ideal baritone voice for the role--not too light nor too bass-oriented. This Giovanni is demonic enough in his obsession yet manages to suggest the facade of charm. The Serenade is truly seductive, long-breathed and suave (with a deft mandolin in support). Yurisich, who has given us so many sterling performances at Covent Garden and a a good Leporello at Glyndebourne, sings that part with a grainy, characterful bass-baritone nicely offsetting Schmidt's smoother delivery. Both are assured and witty in recitative.
Lynne Dawson is an accomplished Elvira; smooth, warm and pointed in both aria and recitative, not attempting too much 'modern' psychology in her reading but just hectic enough to reveal Elvira's deep feelings, especially in the recitative leading up to "mi tradi" in the Vienna version. The Anna, Amanda Halgrimson, is a notable discovery. She has the range, strength and flexibility for this difficult role; her attack is vigorous in "Or sai chi l'honore", her coloratura accurate and well-pitched in "Non mi dir". Nothing here of the prima-donna antics we sometimes hear in the part, but enough passion to suggest not too distantly hidden sexuality. Nancy Argenta's plangent, keen soprano complements the two
Donne and admirably fulfills the contrast mentioned by Norrington in his notes.
John Mark Ainsley turns in a well-groomed, compact Don Ottavio, a suitable partner for his Anna. He sings a particularly accomplished "il mio tesoro" in the Prague version, taking the long run in a single breath and even embellishing the already taxing line at the reprise (this is an aria that notably benefits from Norrington's speed, a fast
andante). He also sings exquisitely in tandem with his Anna in their duet in the Act 2 finale (also Prague version). Gerald Finley's firmly etched Masetto and Alastair Miles's sonorous, steady Commendatore complete the even octet of soloists.
-- Gramophone [10/1993]
Selections on this recording include performances of both the Prague and Vienna versions of the opera. Listeners can program their own sequences.
Works on This Recording
Don Giovanni, K 527 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Andreas Schmidt (Baritone),
Alastair Miles (Bass),
Amanda Halgrimson (Soprano),
Lynne Dawson (Soprano),
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor),
Gregory Yurisich (Baritone),
Nancy Argenta (Soprano),
Gerald Finley (Bass)
London Heinrich Schütz Choir,
London Classical Players
Written: 1787; Prague
Length: 195 Minutes 13 Secs.
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