Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS SuperBudget Price

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni (Prague Version, 1787).
Kwangchul Youn (bass) Don Giovanni; Regina Schörg (soprano) Donna Anna; Heidi Brunner (mezzo) Donna Elvira; Jeffrey Francis (tenor) Don Ottavio; Maurizio Murara (bass) Leporello; Birgid Steinberger (soprano) Zerlina; Reinhard Mayr (bass) Masetto; Reinhard Hagen (bass) Il Commendatore; Chorus sine nomine
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Bertrand de Billy
Rec. Sendesaal, Vienna in September 2002. DDD
ARTE NOVA 74321 98338 2 [157’35: 3CDs: 76’21+66’18+16’56]

Arte Nova has given us cause to be grateful for this fascinating document. That is not to say it is infallible (see below), rather that as an entity it works remarkably well, is musicologically aware and offers a great deal of pleasure along the way. At super-budget price, it is well worth a spin or several. The opportunity to hear a younger generation of singers in major roles proves fascinating. Both for de Billy’s conducting and much of the singing, this is a youthful delivery of the score (and Mozart, remember, was never anything but young) which is gripping both dramatically and musically. Even the booklet notes are lengthy, informed and informative.

Although issued on three discs, the third is actually an appendix (hence the duration of only a little over a quarter of an hour) that includes the Vienna alternatives. Don Giovanni, remember, was premièred in Prague on October 29th, 1787; the Vienna première, at the Royal National Court Theatre, occurred a year later.

Let’s start at the very beginning … for here, in the Overture, the characteristic traits of de Billy’s reading are immediately apparent. Stormy, arresting, violent even, the initial orchestral explosion (no other word for it here) is startling in the extreme. Dramatic and to the point, punchy and gripping, it is easy to believe that one is in an opera house. Here also the qualities of the Sendesaal recording itself are manifest: clarity and believable space in harmony.

Leporello is the first character to appear. Maurizio Murara is a well-travelled singer who also numbers Sarastro (Zauberflöte) and Escamillo (Carmen) in his repertoire. He sang Bartolo (Figaro) under Riccardo Muti at the Vienna State Opera and Osmin (Entführung) at the Volksoper there. Impressive credentials. His ‘Notte e giorno faticar’, taken fast, may seem somewhat distanced initially, but remains focussed. He seems to have found full voice for his Catalogue Aria (‘Madamina, il catalogo è questo’) where his confident characterisation carries the listener with it. Again, every word counts, and de Billy’s accompaniment is razor-sharp.

De Billy’s velocity invokes considerable excitement in the initial Donna Anna/Giovanni/Commendatore confrontation. Two things immediately become apparent: this is an ensemble effort, and diction is all. Despite the substantial lick, all words carry. The Commendatore (Reinhard Hagen) is of a smaller voice than is often the case; Regina Schorg’s Donna Anna is full of voice and nicely projected. Vibrato is there, but it is dramatic without being overly distracting. The Commendatore’s death is affecting without indulgence. No lingering: there is evidently a long way to go.

Time now for our Don Ottavio to show his colours. American tenor Jeffrey Francis has made a career in the baroque and Rossini fields, only recently taking up the Mozartian challenge. He is light-voiced, but it is a voice full of expressive possibilities. As he tries to revive Donna Anna, his tenderness shines through – it is easy to believe his devotion, even if he is somewhat literal in his entreaties (the ‘Fuggi, crudele, fuggi!’ duet). Francis’ Don Ottavio is, in fact, an ‘almost but not quite’ assumption. Although in the second act he is somewhat stretched at the close of ‘Il mio tesoro’, he nevertheless phrases well and takes the melismas in his stride.

A pity the Don’s first entrance is notable for the recording edit at its start, a reminder this is a studio performance. Korean bass Kwangchul Youn , who landed in Europe in 1990, has been linked to the Berlin State Opera since 1993. He took the part of Landgraf in Tannhäuser at Bayreuth in 2002. Youn and Muraro spark off each other in their recitative.

Heidi Brunner’s Elvira makes for compulsive listening in recitative (how often can one say that?); Birgid Steinberger’s Zerlina and Reinhard Mayr’s Masetto are perfectly matched in the lightness of voice. A pity that only slightly later Masetto and Leporello, both basses, sound somewhat similar (especially apparent when one listens to Masetto’s ‘Ho capito, signor, si!’). No problems of individuality for Steinberger’s Zerlina, whose part in the most famous Duettino of all (‘Là ci darem la mano’) reveals a fresh young girl, surely the epitome of what Mozart had in mind. She reveals a further depth to her character, though, as she later attempts to assuage Masetto’s jealousy in ‘Batti, batti, o bel Masetto’. Tenderness is all here.

Throughout this exposition of principal characters, de Billy’s pacing has been consistently effective and dramatically astute. It is not until Donna Anna’s ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ that tension sags appreciably for the first time. Listening ‘blind’, it would be difficult to credit that the subject of the aria is revenge. Perhaps this was planned to contrast with the Don’s breathless ‘Fin ch’an dal vino’ not too much later?. Youn and de Billy just get away with it, Youn actually managing not to babble.

For the Finale of Act 1, the onus is on the conductor to tie it all together into a coherent musico-dramatic entity, and de Billy comes through the test well, characterising the individual parts (a charming, gallant Menuetto, for example) within the umbrella of whole. As chaos reigns, the strength of this recording in its ensembles comes to the fore and leaves a lasting impression as the (metaphorical) curtain falls.

Lovely that each Act fits onto one disc. The Second Act begins with the Don and Leporello in duet. It is informative, as Youn emerges as stronger than Muraro. In fact, Muraro improves considerably by the time we get to ‘Deh, vieni alla finestra’, for which he employs a silky smooth legato (in addition, de Billy’s tempo seems perfect). On his ‘return’, Hagen’s Commendatore is appropriately ominous (helped by a touch of added reverb: from ‘the other side’, one imagines!). If Donna Anna’s ‘Non mi dir ‘projects a predominant sadness well, it is in the finale that things really fall into place, right from the impressively bustling orchestra.

Youn’s assumption of the title role is not the most strongly defined on record, but perhaps in an overall conception that emphasises the several rather than the one, that is appropriate.

De Billy ensures the action is fast and furious. Importantly, the arrival of the statue is expertly managed in that it makes its effect without causing the dramatic curve to stall.

The supplement, disc three, offers the Vienna additions: Don Ottavio’s ‘Della sua pace’ (to be inserted after CD1, track 24), nicely sung by Francis and alternatives for Act Two, Nos. 20 and 21 (including Elvira’s ‘Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata’).

Fascinating and rewarding, this is a most instructive, aware Giovanni that at the price should be a compulsory purchase for every opera-lover.

Colin Clarke



Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.