October 29, 2015

101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes 113: Joan Sutherland sings excerpts from Mozart ~ Don Giovanni

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

Don Giovanni

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I started the Vinyl LP series because I have a collection of over 20,000 vinyl record albums I am selling; each blog entry is about an album from my collection. The 101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes series is an extension of that collection. Inquire for information here.   

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The first opera I ever saw was not actually a live production; it was a film. I remember it vividly! I saw it at a theater, the El Capitan, on Mission Street in San Francisco, California, in the late fifties. It was an ancient movie palace from the twenties that had seen better days and was in sad condition. It is no longer there; well, the external structure is there but it was gutted years ago and turned into a parking lot. The entrance to the lot was the original theater entrance. I was to move into my studio two blocks away fifteen or so years later. To the right of the theater you can see the sign for the Greek import store where I would buy those great albums from Greece    

El Capitan theater, San Francisco, CA
photo by Wendy Harman

I didn't even know what I was going to see. I was expecting a regular old movie but I was in for a gigantic surprise. It was a film of a 1954 stage production in Salzberg, Austria. This production of Don Giovanni was filmed in Salzburg’s open-air Felsenreitschule theatre as part of director Paul Czinner’s movement to preserve renowned theater performances for posterity. It was conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler and featured Cesare Siepi as Don Giovanni, Lisa della Casa as Donna Elvira, Elisabeth Grümmer as Donna Anna and Otto Edelmann as the Don's comic man servant (link to this film on YouTube below).    

Joan Sutherland sings Mozart ~ Don Giovanni
reel-to-reel tape box 
photo by Styrous®

The complete title for Don Giovanni is, Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni, literally The Rake Punished. It is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Da Ponte's libretto was billed, like many of its time, as dramma giocoso, a term that denotes a mixing of serious and comic action. Mozart entered the work into his catalogue as an opera buffa. Although sometimes classified as comic, it blends comedy, melodrama and supernatural elements. It was premiered by the Prague Italian opera at the Teatro di Praga (now called the Estates Theatre) on October 29, 1787.       

Joan Sutherland sings Mozart ~ Don Giovanni
reel-to-reel tape box back
photo by Styrous®

Don Giovanni is currently tenth on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide. It has also proved a fruitful subject for writers and philosophers. It is based on the legends of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer.       

Joan Sutherland sings Mozart ~ Don Giovanni
reel-to-reel tape box back detail
detail photo by Styrous®

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote a long essay in his book Enten – Eller in which he argues, writing under the pseudonym of his character "A" and quoting Charles Gounod, that Mozart's Don Giovanni is "a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection." The finale, in which Don Giovanni refuses to repent, has been a captivating philosophical and artistic topic for many writers including George Bernard Shaw, who in Man and Superman parodied the opera (with explicit mention of the Mozart score for the finale scene between the Commendatore and Don Giovanni). Gustave Flaubert called Don Giovanni, along with Hamlet and the sea, "the three finest things God ever made." E. T. A. Hoffmann also wrote a short story derived from the opera, Don Juan, in which the narrator meets Donna Anna and describes Don Juan as an aesthetic hero rebelling against God and society.    

In Nordic and Germanic languages, Leporello's "Catalogue Aria" provided the name "Leporello List" for fan-folded printed matter, as used for brochures, photo albums, computer printouts and other continuous stationery.   

Joan Sutherland sings Mozart ~ Don Giovanni
reel-to-reel tape box spine
detail photo by Styrous®

Joan Sutherland made her debut in Don Giovanni on July 26, 1958, with the Vancouver Opera, the largest opera company in western Canada. It was conducted by Berthold Goldschmidt.      

She was dubbed La Stupenda by a La Fenice audience in 1960 after a performance of the title role in Handel's Alcina.  
Her voice was described as "fresh," "silvery" and "bell-like" until 1963, Joan Sutherland's voice, later became "golden" and "warm", music critic John Yohalem writes it was like "molten honey caressing the line." In his book Voices, Singers and Critics, John Steane writes that "if the tonal spectrum ranges from bright to dark, Sutherland's place would be near the centre, which is no doubt another reason for her wide appeal." According to John Yohalem, "Her lower register was a cello register, Stradivarius-hued." Her voice was full and rounded even in her highest notes, which was brilliant, but sometimes "slightly acid."

Joan Sutherland sings Mozart ~ Don Giovanni
reel-to-reel tape box and reel
photo by Styrous®

Joan Sutherland sings Mozart ~ Don Giovanni
reel-to-reel tape box and libretto
photo by Styrous®

The synopsis

Don Giovanni, a young, arrogant, and sexually promiscuous nobleman, abuses and outrages everyone else in the cast, until he encounters something he cannot kill, beat up, dodge, or outwit. The infamous womanizer, makes one conquest after another until the ghost of Donna Anna's father, the Commendatore, (whom Giovanni killed) makes his appearance. The Commendatore offers Giovanni one last chance to repent for his multitudinious improprieties. He will not change his ways, so, he is dragged into hell by a horde of demons amid fire and smoke (link to complete synopsis below).       

The Libretto

Net Links:      
Don Giovanni ~ Synopsis         
Don Giovanni ~ Roles

Mozart ~ Don Giovanni on YouTube:                   
Don Giovanni, Furtwängler, Salzburg 1954 (complete opera)          
Don Giovanni - Commendatore scene (Furtwängler)                  
The Joan Sutherland , Mozart ~ Don Giovanni reel-to-reel tape is for sale on eBay      

Styrous® ~ Thursday, October 29, 2015 

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