CAST: Don Giovanni: Eberhard Wächter; Donna Anna: Joan Sutherland; Don Ottavio: Luigi Alva; Donna Elvira: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; Leporello: Giuseppe Taddei; Masetto: Piero Cappuccilli; Zerlina: Graziella Sciutti; Commendatore: Gottlob Frick
Roberto Benaglio, chorus master
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
EMI, 1959 (1997)
This recording is a milestone in the discography of Mozart’s masterpiece Don Giovanni. It was recorded in London in 1959, at the end of a decade which showed abundance of recordings of this opera, especially knowing that only two recordings were released before the Fifties: the first in 1936, featuring John Brownlee as Don Giovanni under Fritz Busch’s baton and the second in 1942, with Ezio Pinza as the title role and Bruno Walter’s conduction. The present Don Giovanni is the last of ten recordings made between 1950 and 1959, but it is one of the best ever released.
Carlo Maria Giulini’s conduction is the first but not the only strong point of this recording. Even though his interpretation of Don Giovanni has been sometimes criticized as lacking sense of drama, nothing seems more distant from the truth when one takes note of his brisk and brilliant conduction in the joyous scenes, so wonderfully in contrast with the sombre and tense atmosphere of the dramatic ones, which is anticipated by the overture.
Don Giovanni needs eight great singers and the cast of the present recording is close to perfection. Actually, Eberhard Wächter is too rough as Don Giovanni and he reminds of the German tradition to which he belongs, even though his large, ringing voice, his boldness and his outstanding musicianship are qualities good enough to make him valuable. With little more elegance, Wächter would have been an ideal model, but on the whole he corresponds to the idea of Don Giovanni as an impenitent and brazen libertine for whom the freedom he celebrates at the end of the first act is not only a matter of principle, but the thread of his life – and death.
The singers who really attract the listener’s attention and that really adorn this Don Giovanni are Joan Sutherland (Donna Anna) and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Donna Elvira). The Australian soprano is at the apogee of her vocal splendour and she is incomparable in coloratura and agility. Her singing, of which one could endlessly praise the luminous timbre, the superb legato and the homogeneity of registers, is embellished moreover by her robust straightforwardness. Sutherland’s Donna Anna is magnificent for her statuesque stateliness that gives the sense of her offended soul and revengeful temperament even though Anna – as the other characters – is irresolute when it comes to acting against the villain. Her diction is, for once, incredibly accurate and comprehensible, even though not always impeccable.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is equally outstanding as Donna Elvira. Although her singing is less flamboyant than Sutherland’s, her voice is rich and smooth, her coloratura is fine and she is really mesmerizing. What is really amazing in Schwarzkopf’s performance is her psychological insight. Despite the feelings she expresses in the trio in the second act and in her second aria Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata, Schwarzkopf is admirable first and foremost for the irascibility and resentment with which she characterizes her heroine, two moods that suit perfectly this deserted and proud woman.
Giuseppe Taddei, who was Don Giovanni in a recording released in 1953, is Leporello in the present one. One of the best Mozart baritones of the 20th century (Figaro is another of his signature roles), Taddei shows his subtlety, wit and sense of humour to portray an unpredictable servant, extremely attentive to phrasing and expression, so that you can really have the impression to see him acting while singing. His amusement in the famous “catalogue aria”, as well as his fear – which leaves him speechless – in the scene with the Commendatore, are properly and finely portrayed.
Luigi Alva is a refined Don Ottavio, provided with a beautiful and elegant voice. Graziella Sciutti, who in other recordings is shrill and querulous, is graceful as Zerlina and only occasionally you might regret a little more vivacity from the coquettish peasant. Piero Cappuccilli as Masetto is too rough in his short aria in the first act, but overall his musicianship and fine voice are not disappointing in the rest of the opera. Gottlob Frick as the Commendatore is imposing and threatening in intention, but sometimes his voice sounds rather grotesque.