Sunday, March 31, 2013

Our "J" and "K" conductors shine in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and "Così fan tutte"



Eugen Jochum (a few years older in the picture!) conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in the Overture to Mozart's Così fan tutte, from his December 1962 DG recording of the complete opera.

by Ken

We're showing off our "J" and "K" conductors in Mozart operas this week. In Friday night's preview we heard both Eugen Jochum and Josef Krips conducting the opening of The Abduction from the Seraglio. Today we're going to hear each in excerpts from one of the great operas Mozart wrote with his supreme librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte: Krips conducting Don Giovanni and Jochum conducting Così fan tutte -- not only my favorite recordings of these much-recorded operas, but two of my all-time favorite opera recordings.

The two performances reflect markedly different sensibilities, but that same quality of basic musicianship -- which I might boil down to discovering how the music wants to move of its own momentum -- I've been trying to highlight in our tributes to Jochum, Krips, and our other "K" conductors, Rudolf Kempe and Rafael Kubelik.

You don't really think of matters of tempo (or at least I don't), because the tempos have been chosen to make scenes happen, and that's where at least this listener's focus is. Nor do you especially register obvious ploys to create rhythmic "momentum"; the point is that the momentum happens from within, with the music always seeming to move of its own volition in accord with the dramatic needs of the moment, while at the same time, cunningly enough, allowing the music to shine fully.

In the booklet for the Decca "Legendary Performances" reissue of the Krips Don Giovanni there's an "evaluation" of this legendary performance, which of course is careful to allow for its "legendary" status (otherwise the author wouldn't have been paid; these people do now how to give their masters what they're looking for) but picks it apart in a "checklist"-type way. Some of the learned-sounding prattle is moderately accurate as far as it goes, which isn't far, while much of it not even that. But almost all of it is innocent of what seems to me the most important, and in some ways only, consideration: how does the music play?

I don't like doing this: spotlighting performances I expressly don't like, all the more so in a case like this, where the recording seems to me to fundamentally misrepresent the performer. But here's the Così Overture again, and performed by Karl Böhm, for whom this opera may be said to represent a specialty. If you were to describe the performance objectively, in terms of tempo and phrasing and articulation, it might sound like "Böhm's Così Overture," but to me it doesn't, at all, because it doesn't move the way "Böhm's Così Overture" did in every other performance I've heard. In this version, much of the life has been squeezed out of the music.

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Overture

Philharmonia Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. EMI, recorded November 1962

Here, by contrast, is a Böhm Così Overture, unfortunately in so-so broadcast-quality mono sound, from just a few months earlier.

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Overture

Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Recorded live at the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 8, 1962


THAT SAID, LET'S MOVE ON TO THE KRIPS DON
GIOVANNI
AND JOCHUM COSÌ RECORDINGS



DON GIOVANNI

Many of these Don Giovanni excerpts (and a number of others as well) we first heard in a May 2010 post called "Mozart understood that empathy was as useful a quality for a composer as for a Supreme Court justice." In the original post I provided a link to an online Italian-English libretto of the opera. Alas, it's no longer there!



MOZART: Don Giovanni, K. 527:
Overture and Opening Scene
Not counting the Overture, this entire scene runs 5:18 in the Krips-Decca performance, 4:45 in the Walter-Met. In this excruciatingly tiny span we have Leporello's aria outside the home of Donna Anna, in which he bemoans his fate as the servant of a reprobate, waiting alone "night and day" in such situations for his master; Donna Anna's ferocious pursuit, from inside the house, of her still-masked intruder, who she insists will get away over her dead body; the entrance from the house of her father, the Commendatore, and the ensuing confrontation in which the Commendatore demands that the masked man submit to a duel, which he's finally (and deeply reluctantly) forced into, in which he wounds the Commendatore; and the trio for three basses as the Commendatore cries in vain for help while the masked man (Don Giovanni, of course) and Leporello look on, until the old man expires.

We hear both performances in two parts. For the Krips-Decca we hear first the Overture leading directly into Leporello's curtain-rise aria, "Notte e giorno faticar,"as we heard them in Friday's preview; then we hear the continuation of the scene, with a little overlap. The Walter-Met performance we heard originally without the Overture, on the theory that we had enough better-sounding performances and didn't need to be listening to a 1942 AM broadcast; now I've added it, so we can hear Walter conduct it in the opera house, but you can easily skip it if you like.


Fernando Corena (bs), Leporello; Suzanne Danco (s), Donna Anna; Cesare Siepi (bs), Don Giovanni; Kurt Böhme (bs), Commendatore; Vienna Philharmonic, Josef Krips, cond. Decca, recorded June 1955


Alexander Kipnis (bs), Leporello; Rose Bampton (s), Donna Anna; Ezio Pinza (bs), Don Giovanni; Norman Cordon (bs), Commendatore; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Live performance, March 7, 1942

Act I, Quartet, "Non ti fidar, o misera"
At this point I'm offering somewhat edited versions of comments I made in the May 2010 post. Unsympathetically performed, Donna Elvira can be as big a nuisance to the audience as she is to Don Giovanni, who went so far in his seduction of her as to actually marry her (at least she seems persuaded that he did). Her remarkable response to his abandonment of her is to chase after him, not to exact vengeance, as you might imagine (and as most everybody else in the opera winds up trying to do), but to get him back, and will continue to do so literally up to his very end. The poor creature is still hopelessly in love with him. This could easily make her a figure of ridicule or even scorn, but that would be without reckoning on the music Mozart composed for her.

We're going to listen now to Elvira's "refinding" of the Don (the line that precedes the quartet is "Ah, ti ritrovo ancor, perfido mostro" -- "Ah, I find you yet again perfidious monster"), in the company of Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, who have come to enlist his help, ironically, in tracking down the intruder responsible for the death of Anna's father. And Mozart takes full advantage of the witnesses da Ponte has furnished him; we learn as much about Elvira from their response to her anguish, "Cieli, che aspetto nobile! che dolce maestà" ("Heavens, what noble bearing! what gentle majesty!"), as we do from anything she herself says or sings. Against Elivra's grace, even under the crushing circumstances ordained for her by fate, or her own romantic foolishness (something the rest of us are way too smart to succumb to), even the Don's legendary charm, working at full capacity, is powerless.

Elvira is a role you try to cast with a singer who doesn't just sing beautifully but has that special magnetism and innocence to have an audience instantly on her side, and in today's excerpts we're going to hear three really fine ones: in addition to Krips's Lisa della Casa, Jarmila Novotna and Kiri Te Kanawa.

Lisa della Casa (s), Donna Elvira; Suzanne Danco (s), Donna Anna; Anton Dermota (t), Don Ottavio; Cesare Siepi (bs), Don Giovanni; Vienna Philharmonic, Josef Krips, cond. Decca, recorded June 1955

[from Elvira's "Ah, ti ritrovo ancor"] Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Donna Elvira; Edda Moser (s), Donna Anna; Kenneth Riegel (t), Don Ottavio; Ruggero Raimondi (bs), Don Giovanni; Paris Opera Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded June 22-July 6, 1978

from the Act I finale, Mask Scene, "Bisogna aver coragggio"
In the Act I finale we encounter both noblewomen, Donna Elvira and Donna Anna, with Anna's fiancé Don Ottavio naturally in tow, arriving masked for a grand party to which Don Giovanni has invited one and all having formed a team of sorts. By this point they have formed a team of sorts, which gets us to what for me is probably the most powerful aspect of an opera that functions on a bunch of levels: the effect on the other characters of their unfortunate interactions with Don Giovanni. It's a cold, cruel world out there, and in the end all we have is one another. Eventually this huddling-for-warmth principle will extend across a vast class chasm to encompass the peasants Zerlina and Masetto.

In what I'm calling the Mask Scene, note in particular how Ottavio frames his response to Elvira's exhortation to courage: "L'amica dice bene" -- our friend is right. The very casualness of that "l'amica" underlines the singularity of the bond so quickly formed between these up-till-now strangers.

Lisa della Casa (s), Donna Elvira; Anton Dermota (t), Don Ottavio; Suzanne Danco (s), Donna Anna; Fernando Corena (bs), Leporello; Cesare Siepi (bs), Don Giovanni; Vienna Philharmonic, Josef Krips, cond. Decca, recorded June 1955

Jarmila Novotna (s), Donna Elvira; Charles Kullman (t), Don Ottavio; Rose Bampton (s), Donna Anna; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Live performance, March 7, 1942

Act II, Sextet, "Sola, sola, in buio loco"
We come finally to the second of Mozart's sublime sextets, following the one in Act III of The Marriage of Figaro in which Marzellina is transformed, as if by magic, from a hideous old crone who is Figaro's nemesis (and the Count's last best hope for delaying the marriage of Figaro and Susanna) into his long-lost but nevertheless now-fiercely adoring and protective mother, and his sworn enemy Dr. Bartolo into his owning-up papa. (There would be more glorious sextetting ahead in Così fan tutte.)

Significantly, the sextet is made up, basically, of everybody but Don Giovanni, although Elvira, Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina, and Masetto think it's the Don they have in their clutches, because Leporello has been forced by his master, who wants to do some afternoon seducing in down-classed disguise, to swap clothes. What I love more than anything about the sextet, and there's a lot that I love about it, is what seems to me the false bravado of The Gang, which now imagines itself as a lynch mob. Mozart does his best to make them sound like a convincing band of avengers, but there's something in the music -- is it the squareness and rhythmic regularity of their rage? -- that gives the lie to their bravado.

These people, to their eternal credit, would probably be hard put to lynch a housefly. The more seriously they vent their fury, the more amusing it becomes, reaching a peak when they find out they've been tricked and their captive isn't Don Giovanni but Leporello, pleading a mile a minute for pity, until he can do what he does best: escape. I don't think it's my imagination that the collective rage becomes more believable after this revelation. They're safe now, no longer faced with the prospect of offing their victim, and the formerly stilted quality to their anger is magically gone.

Lisa della Casa (s), Donna Elvira; Fernando Corena (bs), Leporello; Anton Dermota (t), Don Ottavio; Suzanne Danco (s), Donna Anna; Hilde Gueden (s), Zerlina; Walter Berry (bs-b), Masetto; Vienna Philharmonic, Josef Krips, cond. Decca, recorded June 1955

Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Donna Elvira; Jose van Dam (bs=b), Leporello; Kenneth Riegel (t), Don Ottavio; Edda Moser (s), Donna Anna; Teresa Berganza (ms), Zerlina; Malcolm King (bs-b), Masetto; Paris Opera Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded June 22-July 6, 1978

Jarmila Novotna (s), Donna Elvira; Alexander Kipnis (bs), Leporello; Charles Kullman (t), Don Ottavio; Rose Bampton (s), Donna Anna; Bidu Sayao (s), Zerlina; Mack Harrell (b), Masetto; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Live performance, March 7, 1942


COSÌ FAN TUTTE

Many of these excerpts were first heard either in a July 2012 post, "Listening back to Otto Klemperer's Così fan tutte recording," or in the March 2011 installment in the "Remembering Margaret Price" series, "As Mozart's Fiordiligi." (I went especially wild there with performances of Fiordiligi's two stupendous arias.)


In the case of Così, I think it's interesting to hear the 1962 DG recording alongside this earlier Munich radio performance. Despite the very different context (the broadcast performance, for example, is in German), and numerous superficial differences, what fascinates me is how similar they are in terms of songful quality and forward movement.

In the commercial recording of the opening trio, note that Jochum is "blessed" with two of the more notorious rug-chewers in the operatic profession, Hermann Prey and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. It fascinates me how he manages to let them be themselves without disrupting the balance of the performance; note, for example, that the famously unostentatious tenor Ernst Häfliger isn't at all overwhelmed.

Overture and Trio, Ferrando-Guglielmo-Don Alfonso, "La mia Dorabella capace non è"
FERRANDO: My Dorabella isn't capable of such a thing.
Heaven created her as faithful as she is beautiful.
GUGLIELMO: My Fiordiligi wouldn't know how to betray me.
I believe her constancy is as great as her beauty.
DON ALFONSO: My hair is already gray, so I speak with authority.
But let us finish those arrangements now.
FERRANDO and GUGLIELMO:
No, you have told us they could be unfaithful.
You must prove it if you are an honorable man.
DON ALFONSO: Let's forget about such proofs.
FERRANDO and GUGLIELMO: No, no, we want it,
or out with your sword and we'll end this friendship.
DON ALFONSO: But it's sheer madness
to try to find
that evil which when found
makes us unhappy!
FERRANDO and GUGLIELMO: He cuts me to the quick
who lets fall
from his lips
a word that does her wrong.


Ernst Häfliger (t), Ferrando; Hermann Prey (b), Guglielmo; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Don Alfonso; Berlin Philharmnic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded 1962

[in German] Rudolf Schock (t), Ferrando; Horst Guenter (b), Guglielmo; Walter Berry (bs-b), Don Alfonso; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. Live performance, February 1957

Act I, Duo, Fiordiligi-Dorabella, "Ah guarda, sorella"
[A garden by the seashore. FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA are both gazing at miniatures hanging round their necks.]

FIORDILIGI: Ah tell me, sister,
If one could ever find
A nobler face,
A sweeter mouth.
DORABELLA: Just look,
See what fire
Is in his eye,
If flames and darts
Do not seem to flash forth!
FIORDILIGI: This is the face
Of a soldier and a lover.
DORABELLA: This is a face
both charming and alarming.
FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA: How happy I am!
If ever my heart
changes its affection,
may love make me
live in pain.

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (ms), Dorabella; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1971

[in English] Elizabeth Harwood (s), Fiordiligi; Janet Baker (ms), Dorabella; Don Alfonso; Scottish National Opera Orchestra, Sir Alexander Gibson, cond.
Live performance, May 1969


Act I, Quintet, "Sento, o Dio"
GUGLIELMO: O Heaven, I feel my steps falter
In their progress towards you.
FERRANDO: My trembling lips
Cannot utter the words.
DON ALFONSO: In moments of the greatest stress
A hero calls up all his strength.
FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA: Now that we have heard the news,
One detail remains for you to do;
Be brave, and plunge your blade
Into this heart.
FERRANDO and GUGLIELMO: My love, blame fate
If I must abandon you.
DORABELLA [to GUGLIELMO]: No, no, do not go!
FIORDILIGI [to FERRANDO]: Cruel one, do not leave me!
DORABELLA: I would sooner tear my heart out!
FIORDILIGI: I would sooner die at your feet!
FERRANDO [aside, to DON ALFONSO]: What did I say?
GUGLIELMO [aside, to DON ALFONSO]: Do you see now?
DON ALFONSO [aside]: Patience, friend;
We've not reached the end yet!
ALL: Thus destiny confounds
Our mortal hopes.
Ah who, amid such sorrow,
Can ever more delight in life?

Hermann Prey (b), Guglielmo; Ernst Haefliger (t), Ferrando; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Don Alfonso; Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (ms), Dorabella; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Geraint Evans (b), Guglielmo; Luigi Alva (t), Ferrando; Hans Sotin (bs), Don Alfonso; Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; new Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1971

[in English] Peter van der Bilt (b), Guglielmo; Kurt Westi (t), Ferrando; John Shirley-Quirk (bs-b), Don Alfonso; Elizabeth Harwood (s), Fiordiligi; Janet Baker (ms), Dorabella; Scottish National Opera Orchestra, Sir Alexander Gibson, cond. Live performance, May 1969

Act I, Quintet, "Di scrivermi ogni giorno"
Recitative
FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA: I'm dying of breathlessness.
Quintet
FIORDILIGI [weeping]: Swear that you'll write me
Every day, my love!
DORABELLA [weeping]: Write me twice as often, if you can.
GUGLIELMO: Never doubt me, my dear!
FERRANDO: Rest assured, my love!
DON ALFONSO [to himself]: I'll burst if I don't laugh!
FIORDILIGI: Be true to me alone!
DORABELLA: Remain faithful!
FIORDILIGI, DORABELLA, FERRANDO, and GUGLIELMO: Farewell!
My heart is rent in twain, my love.
Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (ms), Dorabella; Ernst Haefliger (t), Ferrando; Hermann Prey (b), Guglielmo; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Don Alfonso; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; Luigi Alva (t), Ferrando; Geraint Evans (b), Guglielmo; Hans Sotin (bs), Don Alfonso; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1971

[in English] Elizabeth Harwood (s), Fiordiligi; Janet Baker (ms), Dorabella; Peter van der Bilt (b), Guglielmo; Kurt Westi (t), Ferrando; John Shirley-Quirk (bs-b), Don Alfonso; Scottish National Opera Orchestra, Sir Alexander Gibson, cond. Live performance, May 1969

Act I, Trio, Fioriligi-Dorabella-Don Alfonso, "Soave sia il vento"
FIORDILIGI, DORABELLA, and DON ALFONSO:
Gentle be the breeze,
Calm be the waves,
And every element
Smile in favour
On their wish.

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (ms), Dorabella; Ernst Haefliger (t), Ferrando; Hermann Prey (b), Guglielmo; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Don Alfonso; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; Hans Sotin (bs), Don Alfonso: New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1971

Pilar Lorengar (s), Fiordiligi; Teresa Berganza (ms), Dorabella; Gabriel Bacquier (b), Don Alfonso; London Philharmonic, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded 1973-74

Ellisabeth Schwarzkopf (s), Fiordiligi; Christa Ludwig (ms), Dorabella; Walter Berry (bs-b), Don Alfonso; Philharmonia Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. EMI, recorded November 1962

[in English] Elizabeth Harwood (s), Fiordiligi; Janet Baker (ms), Dorabella; John Shirley-Quirk (bs-b), Don Alfonso; Scottish National Opera Orchestra, Sir Alexander Gibson, cond. Live performance, May 1969

Act I, Recitative and Aria, Fiordiligi, "Temerari" . . . "Come scoglio"
Recitative
Begone, bold creatures!
Leave this house!
Despina goes out, in a fright.
And with the unwelcome breath of base words
Do not profane our hearts,
Our ears and our affections!
In vain do you, or others, seek to seduce
Our souls; the unsullied faith which
We plighted to our dear loves
We shall know bow to preserve for them
Until death, despite the world and fate.
Aria
Like a rock standing impervious
To winds and tempest,
So stands my heart ever strong
In faith and love.
Between us we have kindled
A flame which warms
And consoles us,
And death alone could
Change my heart's devotion.
Respect this example
Of constancy,
You abject creatures,
And do not let a base hope
Make you so rash again!

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1971

Leontyne Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Aug.-Sept. 1967

Act II, Recitative and Duo, Fiordiligi-Dorabella, "Questo è ver" . . . "Prenderò quel brunettino"
Recitative
FIORDILIGI: This is true.
DORABELLA: So?
FIORDILIGI: So you go ahead:
But I don't want to be involved
If there should be a scandal.
DORABELLA: How can there be a scandal
When we're taking such precautions?
However, listen, let's come to an agreement:
Which of these two Narcissi do you fancy for yourself?
FIORDILIGI: You decide, sister.
DORABELLA: I've already chosen.
Duet
DORABELLA: I'll take the dark one,
Who seems to me more fun.
FIORDILIGI: And meantime I'll laugh
And joke a bit with the fair one.
DORABELLA: Playfully I'll answer
His sweet words.
FIORDILIGI: Sighing, I'll imitate
The other's sighs.
DORABELLA: He'll say to me:
My love, I'm dying!
FIORDILIGI: He'll say to me:
My dearest treasure!
FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA: And meanwhile
What sport and pleasure
I shall have!

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (ms), Dorabella; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1971

[in English; recitative begins earlier] Elizabeth Harwood (s), Fiordiligi; Janet Baker (ms), Dorabella; Scottish National Opera Orchestra, Sir Alexander Gibson, cond. Live performance, May 1969

Act II, Recitative and Rondo, Fiordiligi, "Ei parte" . . . "Per pietà, ben mio, perdono"
Recitative
He's left me, listen, ah no! Let him go.
Let my sight be free of the unlucky object
Of my weakness. To what a pass
This cruel man has brought me!
This is a just reward for my sins!
Was this the time
For me to heed the sighs
Of a new lover, to make sport
Of another's sighs? Ah, rightly
You condemn this heart, o just love!
I burn, and my ardour is no longer
The outcome of a virtuous love:
It is madness,
Anguish, remorse, repentance
Fickleness, deceit and betrayal!
Rondo
In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
The misdeed of a loving soul;
Oh God, it shall evermore be hidden
Among these shady bushes.
My courage, my constancy
Will drive away this dishonourable desir
And banish the memory
Which fills me with shame and horror.
And who is it whom
This unworthy heart has betrayed?
Dear heart, your trust deserved
A better reward!

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1971

Renée Fleming (s), Fiordiligi; Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded at concert performances in the Royal Festival Hall (London), May 3 and 5, 1994
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