thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded
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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Don Giovanni K527 (1787) [164:48]
Mentre di lascio, K513 [4:34]
Un bacio do mano, K541 [1:49]
Per questo bella mano, K612 [4:08]
Cosi dunque tradisci…Aspri rimorsi atroci K432 [3:58]
Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K584 [4:17]
Alcandro, lo confesso…Non sò d’onde viene, K512 [4:36]
Don Giovanni: James Pease (baritone); Leporello: Benno Kusche (bass); Donna Anna: Margaret Harshaw (soprano); Donna Elvira: Sena Jurinac (soprano); Zerlina: Anny Schlemm (soprano); Don Ottavio: Léopold Simoneau (tenor); Il Commendatore: Harvey Alan (bass); Masetto: Thomas Hemsley (baritone); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Festival Chorus/Georg Solti
Italo Tajo (bass: arias)
E. Francalani (K612)
Orchestra Sinfonia di Torino della Radiotelevisione Italiana/Mario Rossi (arias)
rec. 1947 (arias), Live broadcast rec. 17 July 1954, Glyndebourne (Figaro)
ADD; cast and track lists; biographies and photographs; no texts.
Bonus CD: Highlights from Prima Voce [78:10] NIMBUS PRIMA VOCE NI7964 [4 CDs: 267:40]
Georg Solti only conducted one production in Glyndebourne. That was nine performances of Don Giovanni in July 1954. The fifth of these was broadcast live by the BBC, and here it is in Nimbus’s Prima Voce series in all its glory. Well, glory is not an accurate word. The mono sound is as far from glorious as anything can be: it is thin, aggressive and variable in level, there is some distortion and the balance is far from ideal. The playing of the orchestra, apart from some rugged ensemble in the overture, is on the usual Royal Philharmonic level and Solti’s conducting is of course highly professional but rather hard-driven and devoid of charm.
The singing is also a mixed bag. The two outstanding performances are delivered by two of the greatest Mozarteans of the 1950s, Sena Jurinac (Donna Elvira) and Leopold Simoneau (Don Ottavio). The former was one of the loveliest lyric sopranos of her time and her every appearance during this performance is a golden moment. She also carries out surprisingly well, which is more than one can say about Simoneau, who seems to be too far from the microphone. But his two arias and his contributions to sundry ensembles are moments when time stands still. Admirers of either or both of them will probably want the set in spite of the drawbacks, but they should be aware of that both singers are heard in much better sound on the Philips recording of Don Giovanni under Rudolf Moralt, made just a year later. See my review here and my colleague Ralph Moore’s here who thought more highly of George London’s assumption of the title role. The rest of the Glyndebourne cast is more run-of-the-mill. Margaret Harshaw, who was a mainstay at the Metropolitan Opera for twenty-too consecutive seasons, is a rather undistinguished Donna Anna, who makes heavy weather of the coloratura in her act II aria, whereas Anny Schlemm, very young at the time, sings well but lacks the warmth of the best Zerlina’s. Neither Don Giovanni (James Pease) nor Benno Kusche (Leporello) are very interesting, even though both singers have good voices, and Hervey Alan doesn’t make much impression as the Commendatore. The most interesting of the lower-voiced men is actually the young Thomas Hemsley as Masetto. He sounds as youthful as he should be and is a lively actor. When he has been beaten up Don Giovanni, disguised as Leporello, he is the most deplorable man in the world.
Collectors who want Don Giovanni with Georg Solti can choose between two studio recordings: 1978 with the LPO and soloists Bernd Weikl, Gabriel Bacquier, Margaret Price, Sylvia Sass, Lucia Popp and Stuart Burrows, and 1996, also with the LPO and Bryn Terfel, Michele Pertusi, Renée Fleming, Monica Groop, Ann Murray and Herbert Lippert. There is also a live recording from 1962 when he was music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Technically it is flawed, like the Glyndebourne, but with a starrier cast: Cesare Siepi, Geraint Evans, Leyla Gencer, Sena Jurinac (again), Mirella Freni and Richard Lewis (review).
The best Mozart singing on the present set, besides Jurinac and Simoneau, is found on the five bonus tracks, where the Italian bass Italo Tajo sings concert arias by Mozart. Tajo was born in 1915 and had a long career from his debut in 1935 as Fafner in Das Rheingold to the Sacristan in Tosca at the Met in April 1991. In between he sang regularly at La Scala and in Rome and Naples during the war and after the war he had a busy international career that in 1948 also took him to the Met for a couple of seasons. From 1976 he returned there, singing comprimario roles almost to the end of his life. In the concert arias, recorded by Cetra in 1947, we meet a singer in his early 30s with a sonorous, smooth bel canto voice, extraordinarily flexible with exquisite nuances. The tone is more baritone than bass but his range encompasses both the deepest notes – listen to the final tone of Aspri rimorsi atroci (CD 3 tr. 12) – and unforced high notes – Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo (CD 3 tr. 13). In Non sò d’onde viene (CD 3 tr. 14) he effortlessly covers the whole register, and he has a trill, Per questa bella mano (CD 3 tr. 11). Listening to Italo Tajo in these arias should be compulsory for any aspiring bel canto singer.
But this is not the only bonus. Even more models for young singers are available on the fourth CD in the box. This is sampler disc with nineteen singers from the Golden Age of Singing, represented in the Nimbus extensive catalogue of historical issues. Nineteen singers, thirteen of them recorded during the acoustic era, six from the electric era, i.e. after 1925 – all of them legendary, although probably not everyone a household name for people who grew up with the LP and the CD. Each of them is represented with at least one CD in the Nimbus Prima Voce catalogue, and hearing them on this sampler will in all likelihood trigger listeners to acquire at least some of the individual CDs. Those who are satisfied with just these samples will however be richly rewarded, since there is not one weak number, not one indifferent number – all are legendary in one sense or other. Let me just point out a few ones to savour. The only drawback with Richard Tauber’s Dalla sua pace is that it is sung in German, but otherwise this is as close to the ideal one can get. Battistini’s Eri tu, recorded by a quinquagenarian, shows the elegance of the singing that was the norm before the verismo style took over towards the end of the 19th century. Tito Schipa, never the possessor of a large and brilliant voice even in his early years, amply demonstrates how he, when well past fifty, still can caress every phrase and find a myriad of nuances. That he sings in Italian instead of the original French matters very little. Three more or less random commentaries, but you will find gems aplenty throughout this disc.
It’s a pity I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the main issue, the complete Don Giovanni, in particular since this is the 100th issue in the Prima Voce series and thus deserves to be celebrated. The extras are however worth anyone’s attention, and admirers of Léopold Simoneau and Sena Jurinac will no doubt be satisfied with their achievements in the complete opera.
Bonus CD - Highlights from Prima Voce
1. Geraldine Farrar: Madama Butterfly Un bel di vedremo (1909) [4:21]
2. Pasquale Amato: Pagliacci Si può? Si può? (Prologue) (1911) [4:22]
3. Sigrid Onegin: Lucrezia Borgia Il segreto per esser felice (1921) [3:15]
4. Lotte Lehmann: Die Walküre Der Männer Sippe (1921) [3:59]
5. Richard Tauber: Don Giovanni Dalla sua pace (1922) [3:56]
6. Antonina Nezhdanova: A Life for the Tsar I do not grieve (1914) [3:18]
7. Dmitri Smirnov: Les pêcheurs de perles Je crois entendre encore (1909) [4:16]
8. Marcel Journet: Cléopâtre (Massenet) Tes messages d’amour(Air de la lettre) (1916) [3:25]
9. Nellie Melba: Louise Depuis le jour (1913) [4:54]
10. Mattia Battistini: Un ballo in maschera Eri tu (1906) [4:25]
11. Luisa Tetrazzini: La sonnambula Ah! Non giunge (1911) [3:07]
12. Giuseppe De Luca: I puritani Ah, per sempre io ti perdei (1922) [4:32]
13. Miguel Fleta: Tosca E lucevan le stelle (1922) [3:20]
14. Feodor Chaliapin: Rubinstein Persian Love Song (1931) [4:51]
15. Marian Anderson: Cantata No 81 (Bach) Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen (1946) [5:21]
16. Claudia Muzio: Mefistofele L’altra notte in fondo al mare (1935) [4:10]
17. Helge Roswaenge: Le postillon de Lonjumeau Mes amis, écoutez (1936) [2:59]
18. Eidé Norena: Atalanta Care selve (1937) [3:51]
19. Tito Schipa: Werther Io non so … O Natura (1942) [5:48]
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