5 stars are not enough
Tom Lawrence | Cambridge, MA USA | 10/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a welcome mid-price reissue of the 1984 EMI set, a studio recording based on the Glyndebourne stage production directed by Peter Hall. The focus is on dramatic action and Act One sails along in one sweeping arc, pausing to catch its breath twice (maybe for the original LP side breaks). The eight principals use lively interplay to hit each beat without sacrificing any musical integrity. Haitink leads a detailed orchestral performance at a pace that is moderate but never sags. My only gripe would be that 'Deh vieni' sounds like the Don is actually playing the mandolin and missing half of his ring finger. Other than that, extremely recommended. Yikes! Buy it already!"
Tom Lawrence | 12/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have never heard a better Don Giovanni in my life. Every single singer fulfills their role to what I'm sure Mozart intended. There is really nothing that could be criticized about this performance. However, there is one very big problem. Once you listen to this recording, you will never be satisfied with another! It is the best! BUY IT!"
SUCCESSFUL MODERN STUDIO RECORDING
American Evita | U.S. | 05/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"ABOUT THE ALBUM: Don Giovanni (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Recorded 3-12, 1984, No. 1 Studio Abbey Road, London, England, Originally Released as a 3-LP set, 1984, Based On The Production by Sir Peter Hall at the Glyndebourne Festival, Sussex, England. Released by EMI as a 3-CD set.
THE CAST: Thomas Allen, baritone (Don Giovanni), Richard Van Allan, baritone (Leporello), Carol Vaness, soprnao (Donna Anna), Maria Ewing, soprano (Donna Elvira), Elisabeth Gale, soprano (Zerlina), Keith Lewis, tenor (Don Ottavio), John Rawnsley, baritone (Masetto), Dimitri Kavrakos, bass (Commandatore), Martin Isepp, harpsichord continuo, James Ellis, mandolin, Glyndebourne Chorus (chorus master James Glover), London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.
SUCCESSFUL MODERN STUDIO RECORDING:
When this LP was released in 1984, it came at the right time. The success of "Amadeus" the Oscar winning movie sparked interest in the music of Mozart and "Don Giovanni" (the Finale/Commandatore Dinner Scene was featured in the movie) is largely considered one of Mozart's best operas. It may or may not be possible that the engineers of this album and Bernard Haitink had audiences who saw Amadeus in mind when he released this album which just happened to coincide with all that Amadeus fever going on. This is a studio recording which featured singers who had previously performed at the Glyndebourne Festival (at one time a greater vehicle for opera singers than today) based on a production by the famed artistic director Sir Peter Hall, who was coincidentally married to Maria Ewing (the mezzo-soprano singing the role of Elvira in this recording). That production was highly praised and its sets, costumes, art direction and special effects, particularly in the finale, were at the remarkable level of something Andrew Lloyd Webber would have used. The reviews here at Amazon.com are all extremely positive and after having heard this album myself, I'm convinced that my search for the perfect studio recording of Don Giovanni is at last over. So if you, too, have been looking for the best Don Giovanni on record, look no further. Immediately, critics compared this album to the classic, high-ranking Giulini version with Eberhard Wachter, Joan Sutherland and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf from thirty years before. But this 1984 recording, studio engineered with the most sophisticated modern touches, has to come down as the greatest modern studio recording of Don Giovanni. There is so much about this recording that makes it superior but the former reviewers didn't really point out the album's merits, of which there are plenty. First of all, there is the exquisite, richly detailed conducting of the score by Bernard Haitink as played by the London Philharmonic. To my ears, this is exactly as Mozart's music should sound and sticks to the most typical Mozartian sound, albeit in the polished studio recording manner. There is note-for-note perfection everywhere, in both the bigger, dramatic scenes and the more comedic and more intimate moments. There is a vibrant and pure musicality to the reading of this score as if it was an elongated Mozart symphony and because the London Philharmonic is huge and world-renowned (even used as scores for movies), there is the feeling that this Don Giovanni is Mozart's most lyrical and elaborate opera, surpassing even Le Nozze Di Figaro. The pacing is moderate, never too slow or dragging, and yet at various key moments, the pacing is dramatically potent and expressive. You will hear beautiful instrumental touches that are often overlooked by conductors such as Karajan or Solti, as the London Philharmonic and Bernard Haitiking seem to want to elaborate on every moment and make it more musical than you'd ever heard it before. Note for instance how, despite all the razzle-dazzle modern engineering wonders that keep this album from ever sounding too old, there is a meaningfulness to all of the major scenes- Don Giovanni killing the Commendatore in a duel, Leporello's Catalog Aria, Giovanni seducing Zerlina, The Don's Masquerade Ball, Elvira's "Mi Tradi Quel Alma Ingrata" aria and of courses the sensational Finale. But for me, the greatest moment captured on this record is the Trio "Protegge Il Justo Cielo" sung by Elvira, Donna Anna and Ottavio as they prepare to enter the Don's Masquerade Ball. The tempo suddenly slows down as if to mark the importance of this section and the three voices (1 tenor, 2 sopranos) rise up from the nothing and becomes a very poignant, beautiful and important moment. I have never heard anything like this and some conductors usually miss the poignancy and spirituality of this Trio. Haitink does not. But despite all the beautiful moments which are overabundant on this recording, much like a rich, elaborately designed cake, there is also substance and remains dramatic when called for but as for this dramatic prowess, I find that it's more in the singers' voices than in the music. Having been remastered from the old LPs, the sound quality is truly magnificent, clean, crisp, grand and so lovingly and carefully designed to make a truly gorgeous Don Giovanni.
THOMAS ALLEN AS DON GIOVANNI is a role that fit him like a glove. He has always been considered a supreme, modern Don Giovanni, equal to previous generation interpretors like Eberhard Wachter and Cesare Siepi. His only rival during the 1980's was Samuel Ramey, who also enjoyed immense success (primarily in the US) as Don Giovanni, but Thomas Allen, a Brit, more than any one truly captured the continental touch to the Don. Allen's voice is velvety-deep, dark, masculine, but also refined and polished so that his Don Giovanni comes off as a very elegant wolf in gentleman's clothing. Many have criticized his Don Giovanni for lacking the necessary wickedness and evil usually associated with the Don. It is a very elegant and un-wicked sounding Giovanni. The only reason you won't hear him act as much as the other singers do is the fact that the Don has only two arias and his real dramatic strengths are found in the recitatives and ensembles. Allen had the voice, the body and the right dramatic integrity for the role on stage. On record, he is one of the more enjoyable Don Giovannis, singing with note-for-note perfection. Note for instance how cleanly he slides into "La Ci Darem La Mano". Despite all the gloss, his voice steps up the intensity in the Commandatore Scene in which he is dragged to Hell. Note how he shouts 'Inferno!!" and you can really feel his fear. His scream as he falls into Hell is also largely considered one of the more realistic and thefore the best. RICHARD VAN ALLAN another Brit, has been well-documented on recordings and his voice is essentially a lyric baritone. As Leporello, he does not overdo the campiness and the basso buffo comedy bits (I like my Leporellos to be as hilarious as possible) but he does get into character and really can sing the heck out of every scene he's in. His faster-paced singing, especially, proves that he had mastered the music of Mozart and was a versatile singer, able to sing both slowly and grandly and at the same time comedically. He has a great Mozartian voice. KEITH LEWIS AS OTTAVIO is very refined and almost Shakespearean, though in his Ottavio, I don't hear the typical Mozartian tenor voice. Tenors like Peter Schreier and Stuart Burrows can sing the part in their sleep and seem to have been born to sing Mozart but Keith Lewis sings brings a strong musicality to the role, and an elegance that is also very appropriate for Ottavio, who is an aristocratic gentleman. I may prefer other tenors as Ottavio but Lewis sings the part with really great lyric delivery and he is as dramatic as called for as well. The thing is, Ottavio is not as dramatic as his female counterpart, Donna Anna, and his arias were written to be sung with a lot of lyricism. I would have liked to have heard Lewis sound more dramatic but he can truly sing a very fine Ottavio period. JOHN RAWNSLEY AS MASETTO is really good. Normally, baritones singing Masetto don't do much with the role. The role is a minor one (even Zerlina's role is bigger) but Rawnsley is able to add dramatic touches to his voice. He sounds every bit the angry and jealous boyfriend. I have never heard "Or Capito, signor si" sound better. You can really feel for this Masetto who is insecure and angry that Zerlina is very likely to leave him for the Don. John Rawnsley is yet another British singer in this primarily British cast but these singers are far from being dull and lifeless. Ranwsley has a terrific voice and it sounds great here. DIMITRI KAVRAKOS AS THE COMMANDATORE is, quite honestly, the weak link. His voice is wholly suited for the role and it's not outwardly a bad Commandatore. He has the hefty and powerful bass voice, and he sings it as grandly as most Commandatores sing it. But there is no ferociousness and bite. I like for my Commandatores to sound like avenging angels sent by God, with a thunderous voice that should sound electrifying and very scary. The Don has to be just the tiniest bit afraid. But Kavrakos does not really step up the dramatic intensity in the role and it is the role of the Commandatore that is the most dramatic. His role is pivotal. The Don killed him and Mozart seems to be saying that it's not really his Lothario, womanizing ways that is the problem, it's the fact that at the beginning of the opera he killed an old man in cold blood and without feeling anything for him. The Commandatore returns to bring the Don to Hell and this part cannot be sung without really acting up the part. It's impossible. So while Kavrakos has a powerful voice and fine diction, he is just not trying hard enough to sound as grand and frightening as he should sound.
MARIA EWING AS ELVIRA ought to be a BIG reason why you should get this album. She is by far the best interpretor of this role, combining a beautiful and strong Mozart singing voice with a high level of dramatic intensity. Most sopranos (or mezzo-sopranos) who sing Elvira keep the voice light and lyric. Most singers take the "pity her" approach and make their voices just sound noble and "sad" when in fact the voice calls for bigger passions such vengeance, frustration and anger. At the same time it must be a voice that conveys sympathy. Elvira is a bitter woman who still believe she is married to Giovanni and who wants him to give up his wicked ways and come back to her. She's frustrated that she cannot seem to win him back but she is determined to get revenge on him single-handedly herself. In all fairness, her role is even more dramatic than Donna Anna's. As if that was not enough, she must be a comic figure, not as much as Leporello, but certainly a provider of comic relief in various scenes, particularly the scenes in which she interacts with Giovanni. Maria Ewing was a rare breed of singer who could sing both soprano and mezzo soprano roles and yet could not be categorized vocally. She was able to sing with dramatic power just as well as any high, dramatic soprano could. In the 80's, she sang Salome of Strauss' famous opera (and she would win notoriety by dancing in the nude in this role) and yet she was able to sing the mezzo soprano roles (most notably Bizet's Carmen). Her Elvira is sung in the soprano key and in fact, her voice seems to steal the spotlight from even Carol Vaness who appears more interested in the purity and beauty of the vocal line than on dramatic styling. Consequently, Ewing's voice sounds every bit Donna Elvira ought to be - angry and passionate. The voice is note-for-note perfect, the coloratura is decent, the lyric voice is good and again, she lives the part. Her Elvira is the prime example of how the part should be sung. Note how she manages to really sound ANGRY even while she is maintaining lyric control in such scenes as "Ah Chi Mi Dice Mai", "Non Ti Fidar O Misera" and in her big aria "Mi Tradi Quel Alma Ingrata". Her "Mi Tradi" is the best on record. The part of Elvira seems a lot bigger, putting her in the limelight. After you hear Maria Ewing's Donna Elvira, you'll find that all other sopranos who sing Elvira (Kiri Te Kanawa, Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Martina Arroyo, Leontyne Price) sound far too mannered and reserved and consequently dull and not dramatic in the least. CAROL VANESS as Donna Anna is really good, but it's a voice that appears to be modeled after the Joan Sutherland Donna Anna; a big, beautiful voice with strength and richness but with only a tiny bit of dramatic inflection. The role of Donna Anna is the most difficult music Mozart ever wrote for a soprano. It fits a dramatic soprano voice but more often than not, lyric sopranos take on the role. The scene in which she discovers her father has been murdered ought to be more dramatic and at times her singing suggests she has gone just the slightest bit mad or traumatized by the whole affair. The scene in which Anna discovers that Don Giovanni is the man who attempted to violate her calls for a lot of drama, and in the space of brief minutes before she plunges into "Or Sai Chi L'Onore" in which she demands justice and revenge. Carol Vaness's voice is strong, no doubt, and quite versatile but she is just not in the level of Maria Ewing's more dramatic voice on this recording. Instead, we hear a typical lyric voice and with all the razzle-dazzle that have always marked her career - lyric control, fine legato, pianissimi and great phrasing. Hers is a very elegant "bel canto" style Donna Anna but we must keep in mind that at this time in the 80's, Vaness was taking on mostly bel canto roles (Anna Bolena) and singing a lot of Verdi (Trovatore, Traviata) and thus her Donna Anna is a voice that is more lyrical than dramatic. ELISABETH GALE AS ZERLINA is beautiful, refined and very womanly. Hers is a voice that makes us understand why the Don seems attracted to her. Gale has a fine voice and eventhough she's British she manages to take on an Italianate soprano voice and is in character. Her Zerlina seems far too graceful and dignified than most sopranos who really sing the part as if it were a soubrette part, with weak and feather-light voices. Not so with Elisabeth Gale who really commands the music with a strong and beautiful lyric voice that is very unique.
LOOK NO FURTHER FOR THE BEST MODERN STUDION RECORDING OF DON GIOVANNI! This is wonderfully done, beautifully and dramatically sung (Maria Ewing's Elvira especially) and the London Philharmonic pulls out all the stops thanks to the masterful conducting of Bernard Haitink. This is a good price and it comes in 3 individual cds in a set. This was considered a superb album in 1984 and thanks to modern remastering technology, the sound is still as vibrant and fresh. This is one of the better studio Don Giovannis available. Order now."