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ABOUT THE ALBUM: LIVE PERFORMANCE FROM THE SALZBURG FESTIVAL, SALZBURG, AUSTRIA, July and August, 1977, originally released in LP, remastered as a 3-CD set by Deutsche Grammophon. THE CAST: Sherrill Milnes, baritone (Don Giovanni) Walter Berry, baritone (Leporello), Anna Tomowa-Sintow, soprano (Donna Anna), Peter Schreier, tenor (Don Ottavio), Edith Mathis, soprano (Zerlina), Teresa Zylis-Gara, mezzo soprano (Donna Elvira), Dale Duesing, baritone (Masetto), John Macurdy, bass (Commandatore) Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Karl Bohm.
KARL BOHM'S THEATRICAL DON GIOVANNI
This Don Giovanni was recorded live at one of the performances at the July-August Salzburg Festival. Karl Bohm was a prominent post-World War II conductor, considered one of the greats (along with Karajan) and who specialized in conducting opera. His recordings of Wagner's Ring Des Nibelung with Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen and Theo Adam is legendary, as is his Tristan and Isolde and Strauss' Salome with Leonie Rysanek. Although the heavier German opera repertoire was his forte, he was equally as impressive conducting Mozart opera. His studio recording of Le Nozze Di Figaro with Hermann Prey, Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, Gundula Janowitz and Edith Mathis has always been critically acclaimed. By 1977, Bohm had already conducted a studio Don Giovanni (1967, with Dieskau, Nilsson and Martina Arroyo) also available on Deutsche Grammophon but it was not a very inspired recording, mostly because critics believed Dieskau and Nilsson were miscast singing Mozart. This live recording is a lot better. It's a supremely theatrical Don Giovanni, the Vienna Philharmonic sounds wonderful, and there is a continuous dramatic flow and brilliant freshness that can still be felt to this date. Unlike most live recordings, there are no distracting "live noises" that would otherwise ruin an opera. Instead, the live sounds we hear - the dueling swords of the Commandatore and the Don in the opening scene, doors shutting and opening, the players walking about, as well as Zerlina's scream in the Masquerade Ball toward the end of Act 1 and Don Giovanni's own scream as he is dragged into Hell in Act 2, make for a dramatically potent opera. There is applause at the end of each major aria. Even with these theatrical touches, the lyricism that is inherent in Mozart's score is beautifully captured by the colorful and expessive Vienna Philharmonic.
SHERILL MILNES AS DON GIOVANNI is absolutely great. The role was not in his usual repertoire (he was primarily a Verdi baritone) and by 1977 he was already a big star with recordings under his belt. His excellent phrasing, high baritone voice, dramatic abilities, legato and incisive rhythmic style served him well. And yes, he had some experience singing Mozart. He is featured in the Leinsdorf "Cosi Fan Tutte" with Leontyne Price and Tatiana Troyanos. He was one of few American opera singers who were featured at the Salzburg Festival. His Don Giovanni here is wonderful. The real strengths lie in his dramatic recitative styling, as found in his interactions with Walter Berry's Leporello. A good Don Giovanni-Leporello relationship is at the heart of the comedy. He makes the Don out to be a relaxed, leisurely but wild and insensitive playboy. The voice is flawless. WALTER BERRY AS LEPORELLO is the best. No other baritone could make Leporello appear as comical. The acting is a little on the campy side, but this is a classic basso-buffo performance. Walter Berry was a Mozart specialist and he enjoyed success with such roles as Papageno in Die Zauberflote. Because Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic allowed the singers to shine and the orchestra never drowned out the performers, this is one Leporello that is a star in his own right. Note for instance how Bohm slows down the orchestra for the Catalog Aria (Madamina, Il Catalogo Questo) and Walter Berry sings this as no other has sung it before, making the aria seem grander than it normally sounds. PETER SCHREIER AS OTTAVIO is strong, elegant and masterful. Schreier was a true Mozart tenor and he performed many of the early Mozart tenor heroes (Idomeneo, Mitridate, Il Re Pastore) but he was also a first-rate Tamino in Die Zauberflote. His voice was born to sing Mozart. This Ottavio is never boring and sounds more heroic than usual. DALE DUESING AS MASETTO is very dramatic and makes the role a lot more interesting than other baritones who do nothing with it. He sounds every bit the jealous and angry boyfriend. His voice is in excellent shape in this recording. JOHN MACURDY would sing for the Joseph Losey film of Don Giovanni the following year in '78. This baritone never really sounded powerful or frightening but approached the role in a different way, bringing out the ghostly, eerie, spectral sounds. After all, the Commandatore in Act 1 that the Don murders is the same Commandatore that shows up at Dinner as either a statue or a ghost.
ANNA TOMOWA SINTOW AS DONNA ANNA on this recording is in her prime, singing with exquisite beauty and lyrical flow. Rather than taking the "dramatic" approach, she sings with note-for-note perfection and makes Donna Anna to be more of a sympathetic heroine; elegant and noble. This Bulgarian soprano had voice that was big and beautiful. It would get a lot bigger in the 80's when she would take on heavier roles such as Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Manon Lescaut. She was very popular at the Salzburg Festival in the late 1970's and was Karajan's preferred soprano in his late career in the 80's. She would sing Donna Anna once again for Karajan's studio recording from the mid 80's, but there she sings with a lot more dramatic and even rougher intensity. TERESA ZYLIS-GARA AS ELVIRA is possibly the only weak link, but it's an opinion of mine based on my preference for more dramatic Donna Elviras. Teresa sings beautifully and she has a fine voice for Mozart. Her Elvira is sung in the mezzo soprano key. It's a warm, mature voice but very musical. She takes the usual "pity me" approach that most sopranos/mezzo sopranos take, in a voice that is pretty but not dramatic. EDITH MATHIS AS ZERLINA is exemplary. Her Zerlina is never dull or lifeless, and she makes a very charming Zerlina, with full lyric voice. She had a lot of experience singing Mozart by this time and she had sung for Bohm's studio Figaro as Susanna. Edith Mathis may not have the Italianate sound, but she has a high soprano voice with lyric richness that has no rival.
This is a really amazing Don Giovanni. If you like very well-done live recordings, this Don Giovanni is by far the best as far as live recording goes. Make it your first Don Giovanni and get ready to hear the extraordinary talents of the Vienna Phil, Sherill Milnes, Anna Tomowa Sintow, Walter Berry, Peter Schreier and Edith Mathis. Thanks to Deutsche Grammophon for remastering recordings of this calibre.