A historic performance of Don Giovanni and a very, very good one
Seeing as Don Giovanni is one of my favourite operas ever and I like Leyla Gencer, Sesto Bruscantini and Luigi Alva, I was all up for seeing this 1960 production. And it gave me a chance to see a potentially new treasure. This is a historic performance of Don Giovanni, and while not quite a treasure like the 1954/5 Salzburg, 1979 Losey, 1987 Karajan and 1990 Met productions, it is a very, very good one for all the few problems it has. Visually, the sets are lavish and the costumes very tasteful. They are true to period and well suited for the opera and for performances of opera back then and the black and white is crisp and clean. The lip-sync is a disappointment, a lot of filmed performances have this problems but they do vary in how distracting or not they are and unfortunately it was distracting here.
The stage direction is traditional and there is evidence of the opera's darkness and complexity(even if done better elsewhere). Nothing distasteful or overly-gimmicky here. That is not to say it is perfect, particularly with Teresa Stich-Randall it does come across as stilted in places but not all the time. Musically, it is an outstanding production. Mozart's music is so good which is always a big plus, and as well as beautiful and stylish playing the orchestra bring out the power and emotion of the music very well. Francesco Molinari-Pradelli does a fine job conducting, I worried that his style would be too heavy as I know him best from his Verdi, but it is a very brisk and involved reading that flows very well. His experience in the heavier repertoire does come at an advantage though in spots, where dramatic scenes are given their necessary weight.
Marco Petri is unknown to me and for me along with Ezio Pinza(the best), Ruggero Raimondi and Cesare Siepi he is one of the best Giovannis I've heard or seen. He has a very smooth, mellifluous voice perfect for the seductive sensitivity of the Serenade and the agility of the Champagne aria, and it is also an evenly produced one top and bottom. It's not just a great voice Petri has, he has the advantage of not only being handsome and seductive with a debonair flair, but also he brings out the not so nice traits of this very multi-faceted role, being narcissistic, cruel and devilish. He is brilliantly matched, in the most interesting relationship of Don Giovanni, by the Leporello of Sesto Bruscantini. Some may find Bruscantini's acting on the hammy side, I personally didn't find that and thought he brought out the humour and loyalty of the role in a very endearing and also sly way, very like Walter Berry and Ferrucio Furlanetto. He also has a sturdy and well-projected voice, definitely one that sounded like a singer at his peak.
Teresa Stich-Randall is not quite on the same level as Donna Anna. I love the pureness and radiance of her voice that soars through beautifully in ensembles and in her arias, even if slightly monochrome in terms of colour. But while aristocratically noble she doesn't come across as fiery or vengeful enough for Donna Anna- for an ideal Donna Anna look to Edda Moser or Elisabeth Grummer- and comes across as too four-square instead. In the case of Luigi Alva, I don't think I've heard or seen a better Ottavio, though Paul Groves and Gosta Winbergh are very good. The role is a thankless one, but with Alva bringing such assurance and nobility to it you wouldn't think so. He is in great voice too with ringing tone, flexibility between registers and great breath control. Renato Cesari is an excellent Massetto, like Berry for the 1954/5 performance he actually sings the role, and doesn't ignore any sense of characterisation either.
Graziella Sciutti's Zerlina, a role where I've heard few if any better(though I do like Teresa Berganza) is adorable with the right amount of perkiness and demure. Her sweet-toned and brightly-tuned voice is perfect as well for Zerlina. Leyla Gencer is a more subdued Elvira than the likes of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Lisa Della Casa and Pilar Lorengar, but there is evidence of spite and fire and she as ever does sing expressively. The only real let-down is Heinz Borst's Commendatore, vocally he is too lightweight and wobbly- a far cry from the black- hearted chilling voice of Martti Talvela under Bohm- and he is nowhere near intimidating enough, which does dilute the tension of the final Commendatore/supper scene.
All in all, a very good historical document of one of the best operas there is. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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