This 'Don Giovanni' lacks unifying focus Music: Aspects of Solti's recording of the Mozart opera shine, but the whole disappoints.

Classical Sounds

October 19, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Mozart, "Don Giovanni," performed by Bryn Terfel (Don Giovanni), Renee Fleming (Donna Anna), Ann Murray (Donna Elvira), Monica Groop (Zerlina), Herbert Lippert (Don Ottavio), Michele Pertusi (Leporello), Roberto Scaltriti (Masetto), Mario Luperi (Commendatore) and the London Philharmonic, Georg Solti conducting (London 455 500-2).

This "Giovanni," recorded live in London last year, is almost certainly the last Mozart opera we will be getting from Georg Solti, who died in September. It is with a certain amount of sadness -- and some bewilderment -- that I have to report that it is disappointing.

Bewilderment because there is so much that is excellent about this "Giovanni." In the title role, the Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel sings with the kind of vocal command that recalls such great Giovannis as Cesare Siepi. Renee Fleming, in magnificent voice and dramatically vital, is warm and vulnerable, as well as imposing, as Anna. Michele Pertusi's Leporello is beautifully sung and characterized with wit and elegance. And Herbert Lippert brings a measure of tenderness and a quality of breath control (in "Il mio tesoro") worthy of comparison to the great Mozart tenors of the past.

Not everyone reaches this exalted level -- Ann Murray's portrayal of Elvira is full of determination but not as vocally assured as it might have been a few years ago -- but much the same could be said of many treasurable accounts of this opera.

What's wrong is that this "Giovanni" doesn't have a unifying JTC focus -- it's just an assemblage of parts, most of them beautiful, that do not add up to a satisfying whole. This lack of character is mostly Solti's responsibility. His last "Giovanni," recorded in London in 1978 with the same orchestra and with an equally distinguished international cast, was similarly flawed. Almost 20 years later, the virtues possessed by that earlier recording -- lively tempos and attacks and a certain demonic energy in the party scenes -- have been somewhat eroded.

But part of this performance's failing must be attributed to Terfel. This man wields his large, flexible and lovely voice with astonishing command and vitality. If there is a more brilliant "Champagne" aria on records, I would like to hear it. But Terfel has become such a huge international star that we tend to forget how young he is. Now 31, he made his Covent Garden debut as Masetto in this opera only five years ago.

His inexperience shows. His singing is filled with the sexual energy essential to Giovanni, and that is, of course, what drives him. But Terfel's youthful characterization lacks what Mozart himself possessed: an understanding of that point in life when the satiety achieved by such drive makes damnation inevitable.

Pub Date: 10/19/99

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