Friday, July 27, 2012

Preview: A master's view of three Mozart opera overtures

by Ken

One of my early records that I played over and over was a Seraphm LP of Mozart opera overtures beautifully played by the Royal Philharmonic under Colin Davis. (Yes, that's it above!) I've always really, really loved Mozart overtures -- but then, what's not to love? (I might mention that back in May 2010 we had a Mozart-overture "quiz-contest" in which we heard the overtures to The Abduction from the Seragio, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte.)

Considering how late in life Otto Klemperer began recording operas for EMI (when the earliest of the three recordings we're going to hear from tonight, the Don Giovanni, was made, he was already 81), it's kind of amazing that eventually he would record all three of the "da Ponte operas" (i.e., the ones with those sublime librettos by Lorenzo da Ponte) as well as The Magic Flute. It pains me to think that in his last couple of years, amid his increasing incapacitations, he was working on two scores special to him which EMI would have been happy to record: the Mahler Sixth Symphony (following his uniquely fascinating recording of the Seventh) and the "other" Mozart operatic masterpiece, The Abduction from the Seraglio. EMI actually scheduled sessions for Abduction (twice, if I recall correctly), which he was unable to do.

The four Mozart operas he did record are all, er, "special" performances, which you wouldn't necessarily want as your only recording (hint: they're not exactly, um, speedy), but their specialness includes qualities you won't hear anywhere else.


(Since the Don Giovanni Overture, instead of coming to a full stop, leads directly into Leporello's opening aria, I decided to tack that on here -- though we then have an abrupt ending with the dramatic first entrance of Donna Anna.)

The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492: Overture

New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded January 1970

Don Giovanni, K. 527: Overture; Introduzione, Leporello, "Notte e giorno faticar"
LEPORELLO: Toiling night and day,
Working for someone who can't be satisfied.
Putting up with rain and wind,
Eating badly and sleeping badly.
I want to play the gentleman,
And I don't want to be a servant anymore.
Ah, what a dear gallant man!
He wants to be inside with a beauty
And I play sentinel!

Walter Berry (bs-b), Leporello; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1966

Così fan tutte, K. 588: Overture

Klemperer's Così recording isn't among my favorites, but it's got important qualities that make me happy it's finally available again.

New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan. 25-Feb. 18, 1971


I might explain that I'm not one of those people with great reverence for Colin Davis's Mozart opera recordings, though in general the later Bavarian Radio series of the da Ponte operas for BMG seems to me a healthy cut above the much-ballyhooed Philips versions. But that early EMI LP of overtures was awfully good. ("Early" Davis was often better than the wildly uneven "International Megastar" Davis.) Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd see if it's obtainable now, and I found this CD that not only appears to contain all the overtures from the Seraphim LP with the Royal Philharmonic but also three German Dances, the Serenata notturna, and Eine kleine Nachtmusik -- with copies available for as little as 40 cents (plus shipping)! Let me stress, though, that I haven't heard it, so I can't vouch for the transfers. Still, 40 cents . . . .

(Oh wait, I see that the Clemenza di Tito Overture is omitted. I don't have much use for the opera, but I love the Overture, and as I recall, Davis did it just fine. Grr!)


We've already heard excerpts from Klemperer's recording of Così fan tutte. Now that there's (finally) a readily available CD edition, I thought we should revisit it.

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