Friday, 21 October 2016
Don Giovanni and Falstaff: choices
So you may have listened to the BBC Radio 3 Building a Library on Elgar's Falstaff by now, but if you haven't, it would be unkind of me to blazon the front runner amongst a mostly fine selection to the rooftops. Which is why I've chosen an image of Elgar the conductor, historical choice from 1930, above, after Klemperer and Mackerras, whose recordings of Mozart's Don Giovanni have so far been my lynchpins in the first three of five Opera in Depth classes I'm devoting to the opera.
And of course I'm in seventh heaven, living and breathing Mozart for so much of the week. I must also say that for all its skewered brilliance, Richard Jones's ENO production didn't affect me as deeply as revisiting Deborah Warner's take for Glyndebourne. I've always admired it the most for taking what I'm convinced is Mozart's and Da Ponte's line in the first scene that when a girl says no she means no. Does it have to be a woman director who has the courage to accept this? Besides which, the students agreed that Gilles Cachemaille is a very convincing seducer with an edge.
We all loved the first scene with Zerlina, so softly persuasive with the bizarre on-the-spot suggestion that she marry him; so convincing that Juliane Banse's gorgeous virgin feels like she's in a dream; so clever to have Giovanni dress her rather than undress her, putting on the wedding accoutrements instead of taking anything off.
As for Klemperer, I ordered up his recording thinking I'd want an extreme opposite to Mackerras's perfect and mostly brisk pacing. But I ended up mostly convinced: when I talked it over with Stephen Johnson, who was staying here on Wednesday night before we travelled up to my old workplace the Freud Museum to record for a Radio 3 documentary on Freud and music, he pointed out the energy of Klemperer's rhythmic articulation, which means that slow rarely feels slow (he used the example of playing OK's Fidelio, and his wife Kate being smitten and surprised that it felt faster than it actually was). Of course there are exceptions rather beyond the pale - his late Mahler Seventh and Cosi, for instance - but this Giovanni brims with energy. And I love the battle of two intelligent basses, Nicolai Ghiaurov and the great, underrated Walter Berry as Leporello, rising to three when the statue of the Commendatore (Franz Crass, also magnificent) comes to dinner.
Here, too, we 'bought' a mezzo Elvira, Christa Ludwig, and Mirella Freni is at her youthful best as Zerlina. Curious that there are two married couples featured - Ludwig and Berry were still together when the recording was made, Ghiaurov was yet to wed Freni (I wonder if the wooing began in the studio here). So, paraphrasing RuPaul, it's a case of 'Klemperer's Don Giovanni - bringing couples together'.
Berry even trumps the superb Alessandro Corbelli, Mackerras's Leporello, in the Catalogue Aria. And the recits are no less brilliant, though of course Mackerras has the greater sense of theatrical pace. We'll be turning to Giulini for the great Quartet and the most ineffable Trio in the middle of the Act One finale. Otherwise, curious how simply wrong early Don Gs were in the conductors' approach to tempi - Andante should never mean Adagio, and Mozart's Andante is brisker than, say, Brahms's (another Johnson apercu).
So, two more weeks and then on to The Nose, with an interpolated visit from Mark Wigglesworth. Seeing Shostakovich's first opera last night reminded me that quite a lot of it doesn't pass muster without the visuals, and Barrie Kosky failed to lift a couple of rather otiose scenes. But there are certainly flashes of genius like the dancing multiple noses (pictured above by Bill Cooper for the Royal Opera). My current earworm, though, is Britten's Billy Budd, which Opera North did so clearly and unforgettably. That was a worthwhile trip to Leeds.
By happy coincidence after we'd finished recording at the Freud Museum yesterday, we walked up to Hampstead and passed the site of Severn House, where Elgar composed Falstaff inter alia. The plaque is getting tatty; how about a proper light blue roundel? Freud has one, after all.
Final teaser with spoiler warning: this is how the Building a Library top choice looked when I first bought it on LP. If you don't want to know whose the performance is, don't read the small print.