LABELS: Royal Opera House Heritage Series
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Don Giovanni
PERFORMER: Cesare Siepi, Geraint Evans, Richard Lewis, Sena Jurinac, Leyla Gencer, Mirella Freni; Covent Garden Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Georg Solti
CATALOGUE NO: ROHS 007
Two further instalments from the Royal Opera’s Heritage series – both finely packaged – show high standards prevailing at Covent Garden in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Granted that fashions have changed since Sir Georg Solti conducted Don Giovanni in February 1962 – his is a relatively heavyweight approach, a long way from the comparative lightness of period-instrument forces. Even if his tempos don’t always convince,
his approach is consistently dramatic with fine orchestral playing.
Any of the cast, heard here in a live performance, would grace a studio recording of the period. Cesare Siepi’s rich liquid tone proves the value of casting a true bass in the title role. Geraint Evans’s Leporello is ripe and gamey in flavour. Sena Jurinac’s Elvira has vivid presence and imagination, while Leyla Gencer’s Donna Anna shows the control and expressiveness of a Turkish soprano deplorably neglected by the major record companies. Her technical command of this particularly difficult role justifies her reputation in Italy where, for some, she was a rival to Callas. Richard Lewis offers the gentle soul of a true gentleman in his Don Ottavio, and a young Mirella Freni impresses as a Zerlina of vivacity and pinpoint accuracy.
Some allowances have to be made for the sound, which is muddy, with
some overloading at climaxes and even the odd missing bar. There’s better sound and an even finer account from Giulini’s studio performance from 1959 (on EMI), though Solti’s cast is not far behind. The finely packaged set of discs also includes a perceptive article
by Patrick O’Connor.