Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Don Giovanni – Jean-Sébastien Bou (baritone)
Leporello – Robert Gleadow (bass-baritone)
Donna Anna – Myrtò Papatanasiu (soprano)
Donna Elvira – Julie Boulianne (mezzo-soprano)
Don Ottavio – Julien Behr (tenor)
Zerlina – Anna Grevelius (mezzo-soprano)
Masetto – Marc Scoffoni (baritone)
Commendatore – Steven Humes (bass)
Choeur de Radio France, Le Cercle de L’Harmonie/Jérémie Rhorer
rec. 2016, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris
Italian libretto with French and English translations enclosed
ALPHA CLASSICS 379 [3 CDs: 175:47]
This is the third instalment in Jérémie Rhorer and Le Cercle de L’Harmonie’s cycle of Mozart operas, recorded live at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Even though I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the applause and stage noises that seem unavoidable at live recordings, my reception of the previous sets was appreciative and I was looking forward to this Don Giovanni with great expectations. The external noises are present to a great extent also here; in particular the stage noises seem even louder and more frequent this time. But there are other factors as well that make this a less attractive proposition than the predecessors.
Initially I found Rhorer’s approach heavier than before – quite natural in a way since Don Giovanni is partly a very dark work. But it is also a dramma giocoso (a playful drama) and the playfulness seemed kind of underplayed, if you excuse the pun. That is also criticism one can level against Klemperer’s reading – a version I still am very partial to for other reasons – but the ponderousness I thought I could anticipate with Rhorer is relieved through his use of a period orchestra. It is of course a larger band than the average authentic group, but the playing is lighter and more airy. So by and large this possible criticism was soon mitigated. As for playfulness there is quite a lot of that in Leporello’s contributions – he is the only genuine buffo character – but also Masetto’s and Don Giovanni’s, even though the latter encompasses so much else. Of the other characters Donna Anna and Don Elvira belong to opera seria, Don Ottavio is a rather bloodless stuffed shirt and Zerlina the only figure that alludes to common people: warm, caring, a bit naïve but also efficient – more so actually than in most productions since the usually cut scene where she catches Leporello and ties him to a chair is included. Il Commendatore, after his death in the first scene of the opera, is a ghost from “The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns”, to quote Shakespeare.
There is a good deal of professional acting and singing during the almost three-hour-long performance (including applause). But there are also some less than attractive features. It may be discourteous to mention the male line first, but I take the risk. Don Giovanni himself, played by French baritone Jean-Sébastien Bou, is a virile and dashing playboy, able to dominate every scene where he appears, and he is as seductive as any baritone from the past in the scene with Zerlina. The champagne aria is sparkling and he is truly slimy and dangerous in the scene where he beats up Masetto. He is also utterly sensitive and conversational in his recitatives. The opening of the churchyard scene in act II is as good an example as any: He laughs violently and says “That’s a good one”, adds smugly “Now let her try to find me!” Then a long pause while he looks around, the fortepiano plays a twiddly bit, whereupon he says softly “What a lovely night! It’s clearer than daytime…”, then he pauses briefly and comes out in his true colours: “… almost made for chasing the girls…”
Canadian Robert Gleadow was Publio in La clemenza di Tito, a role where he had few opportunities to make an impression. His Leporello is however a personality to reckon with. Though his voice is not the most beautiful it is expressive and he sings and acts with a face. The lively catalogue aria is a highlight – in spite of a flat D on “maestoso” – and the second act scene where he, disguised as Don Giovanni, takes care of Donna Elvira and runs into the rest of the gang, which culminates in the celebrated sextet, is also very good. Marc Scoffoni is a good Masetto, while Julien Behr’s Don Ottavio is as pale as the character. He sings Dalla sua pace with good legato and some decorations of the melody but the tone is rather pinched and strained. He is in fact much better in the second act, where he infuses life into Il mio tesoro. Steven Humes hasn’t enough heft to make Il Commendatore really frightening in the churchyard scene – or is it the recording balance that is at fault?
Greek soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu has a powerful voice and is also a quite expressive Donna Anna. She is touching in Or sai chi l’onore and makes a good dramatic impression in Non mi dir, but her tone tends to be squally on the top. Julie Boulianne, Canadian like Gleadow and also member of the cast on the Tito recording, has many good moments in her assumption of Donna Elvira’s difficult role. She conveys both uncertainty and warmth and sings beautifully, in particular in In quali eccessi but has some uncharacteristically shrill notes. The tessitura is probably too high for her mezzo-soprano. Anna Grevelius, also a mezzo-soprano, is a wonderful Zerlina, beautiful tone, warm and compassionate – an ideal exponent of the role. The duet with Don Giovanni is so charming, Batti, batti is lovely and Vedrai carino even lovelier. And it is a special treat to hear her, really dramatic, in the duet with Leporello, added for the Vienna revival of the opera in 1788. I hope to hear much more of Anna Grevelius, who is also an excellent lieder singer.
So, there are swings and roundabouts here, and it is up to prospective buyers to sample the recording and decide whether it is worth buying. Bou, Gleadow and Anna Grevelius are definitive frontrunners. For a library version I would still opt for René Jacobs (review) or Arnold Östman, if you want period instruments. Otherwise there is a plethora of recordings: Krips (Decca) and Giulini (EMI – now Warner) from the 50s, Klemperer (EMI now Warner) (monumental but high-octane) from the 60s, Colin Davis (Philips now Decca) from the 70s. Rhorer is more complete than most others, but Jacobs, who opts for the Prague version, has all the Vienna additions in an appendix, whereas Rhorer’s is a conglomerate of both.
As I said, swings and roundabouts, and though this latest addition to the catalogue of Don Giovanni recordings doesn’t lack merits, there are several others that are safer recommendations.