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--Standard Repertory--

By Lorenzo Da Ponte/Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

VIDEO: VAI: Movie in color dir. Paul Czinner, 1954, featuring Wilhelm Furtwaengler at the podium; with Cesare Siepi, Lisa Della Casa, Otto Edelmann, Elisabeth Gruemmer, Erna Berger, Anton Dermota, Deszo Ernster, and others; one of the most richly satisfying opera films yet made, not quite in the Rosenkavalier class (also dir. Paul Czinner), but still exciting and topped by Siepi's incomparable Don at its most heartless. [G.R.] Available on VAI 69063; no subtitles, Color

AUDIO: A) GALA or VIRTUOSO label: Same production as the '54 VIDEO above but broadcast "live" from the previous season in 1953; most of the principals in even finer voice here if that's possible(!), although Siepi himself is a tad greater on the '54 VIDEO -- however much he still sweeps the competition here; this 1953 CD features Siepi, Edelmann, etc. [as in '54 VIDEO] but with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in place of Della Casa, Furtwängler conducting; ONE BIG IMPROVEMENT IN THIS '53 BROADCAST OVER THE '54 VIDEO: the suave Raffaele Arie as the statue instead of the wobbly Deszo Ernster of 1954; some editions of this '53 performance are in so-so experimental stereo; this performance NOT to be confused with the EMI CD from 1954 with the sorry Mr. Ernster again [G.R.]

B) NAXOS [only available outside the U.S.]: Ezio Pinza, Jarmila Novotna, Rose Bampton, Bidu Sayao, Alexander Kipnis, Charles Kullman, Norman Cordon, Walter conducting; "live" 1942 at the MET; Pinza's is the only Don that may equal Siepi's, and he is surrounded here by almost as assured an ensemble as Siepi in A; in fair sound, mono [G.R.]

C) EMI: Nicolai Ghiaurov, Christa Ludwig, Claire Watson, Mirella Freni, Walter Berry, Nicolai Gedda, Franz Crass, Klemperer conducting; some really fabulous star singers in not quite the tight-knit kind of ensemble of A or B, but still compelling; the superb stereo reproduction of these incredible singers makes quite a contrast to the merely clear, but not stunning, sound quality of A and the strictly fair sound in B [G.R.]

D) EMI: John Brownlee, Luise Helletsgruber, Ina Souez, Audrey Mildmay, Salvatore Baccaloni, Koloman von Pataky, David Franklin, Busch conducting; famed Glyndebourne ensemble from 1936, THE tight-knit ensemble par excellence; fair sound, mono [G.R.]

E) RCA: Alan Titus, Arleen Auger, Julia Varady, Edith Mathis, Rolando Panerai, Thomas Moser, Jan Hendrik Rootering, Kubelik conducting; not quite the sheer abundance of star turns heard in C, but a more cohesive ensemble with a surer conductor (and Varady's striking Anna) and equally superb sound quality; finest set from the digital age; stereo [G.R.]

F-1) DG: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Maria Stader, Sena Jurinac, Irmgard Seefried, Karl Kohn, Ernst Häfliger, Walter Kreppel, Fricsay conducting; yes, Fischer-Dieskau's hectoring is sometimes annoying, but Fricsay's mastery of the drama makes much of it plausible, and Fricsay's sweep is so compelling as to enhance the superb interpretations from many of the other principals; stereo [G.R.]

F-2) EMI (striking just how many accomplished Don Giovannis EMI has released): featuring Eberhard Waechter, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Joan Sutherland, Graziella Sciutti, Giuseppe Taddei, Gottlob Frick, Giulini conducting; many swear by this one as the greatest of all; impeccably produced and conducted set with a superb ensemble of artists critically hobbled by a boor of a protagonist--Waechter is as choppy as Fischer-Dieskau, and, unfortunately, Giulini here affords Waechter greater latitude than does Fricsay in F-1 to Fischer-Dieskau(!); stereo [G.R.]

F-3) CBS/SONY: Ruggero Raimondi, Kiri Te Kanawa, Edda Moser, Teresa Berganza, Jose Van Dam, Kenneth Riegel, John Macurdy, Maazel conducting; features, in Raimondi, the finest post-Siepi interpreter of the title role, suave, deadly, impeturbable, always musical and stylish; unfortunately, Moser and Riegel make a rusty-voiced Anna/Ottavio pair and Maazel's conducting is surprisingly aimless; avoid the Video of this, which boasts an over-busy and eccentric production that distracts even further from Raimondi's impeccable, all-too-rare understanding of the title role; one does regret here the inexplicable substitution of a lower alternate for the electrifying way Raimondi takes and holds the optional top note at the Don's final, defiant "No" in the Video; stereo [G.R.]

For Further Reading:

Don Giovanni (SPECIAL ORDER), by Nicholas John (English National Opera Guides)

Three Mozart Libretti : The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Pack, Marjorie Lelash

Memoirs of Lorenzo Da Ponte (Da Capo Press Music Reprint Series), by Lorenzo Da Ponte, Elisabeth Abbott (Translator), Arthur Livingston (Editor) -- Da Ponte was not only one of the greatest librettists to ever live, he was a fascinating character who lived a very long and active life. This book is a great read, parts are very funny and he has interesting things to say about all of the composers he worked with (besides Mozart!), the singers he worked (and sometimes fought) with, the women he loved and the many historically important people he met during his long life.

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