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Paul Czinner and Alfred Travers directed this recording of one of the popular Da Ponte/Mozart opera's. Mind you: for 1955 it's quite good. Some good camera work and this in spite of the limited possibilities that filming this art form unfortunately has. So far for the good news.
Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted this recording in august 1954, just three months before his death. He should not have done this recording as I find it simply not good. His tempi are só slow that all dramatics are sucked out of the characters; Wilhelm perhaps thought he was conducting Wagner: loud and slow does the trick. It amazes me that Furtwängler shows no dramatic feeling with the characters at all. Yes, I do know it's from 1954 and I keep that in my mind writing this. This musical interpretation I find very black/white and without passion! That's the keyword: Passion.
Whoever did the casting I don't know but to have Zerlina played by 54-year old Erna Berger should be sacked; great for a recording perhaps but not to watch on screen.
The acting unfortunately is as it was believed to be the way-to-do in the 1850's (indeed 100 years before this recording): big gestures and rolling eyes. Otto Edelmann's Leporello is played like an idiot -which he is not (but that same mistake is sometimes made by singers who portray Osmin: often he's a clown). Cesare Siepi has a good age for Giovanni (31) and his jump from the balcony (over 7 feet) is great to watch. But I find his Giovanni not convincing; when Siepi has finished singing he does not know what to do with himself. No acting skills or dramatic knowledge what soever... I found Elisabeth Grümmer (Anna) and Lisa della Casa (Elvira) so so la la. Nothing out of the ordinary. Grümmer stares at the ceiling all three hours as she hopes for Giovanni's love. Della Casa has a good voice but her tormented Elvira does not convince me at all. If I were Ottavio I would have dumped her. Anton Dermota's Ottavio is OK as is Walter Berry's Masetto. Pity that was chosen for the Prague version and not the Vienna one so I missed Ottavio's "Dalla sua pace". But that will always be a choice one has to make as director or conductor: which version do we use?
Of course the libretto by Da Ponte and music by Mozart are so brilliant that it's almost impossible to ruin the opera but this is a nice try.
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