Don Giovanni (1989)
Bruson, Araiza, Dessì, Scarabelli, Faix Brown, Trimarchi, Crisman, Holle; Graf. In Italian, no subtitles. (1989), 191m. Color (2 cassettes)
NTSC or PAL VHS
This Giovanni is warmer and more appealing than the other live video versions. It’s good to hear so many Italians in the work. The personalities are simpatico, the voices sensuous, the pronunciation idiomatic. When Anglo-Saxons sing Italian they tend to make brief, almost indiscernible diminuendos before the consonants t and d, compromising legato. Italians don’t do this. The competing Giovannis are mostly unItalianate. (None has more than one Italian in it.)
Bruson is convincing not because of looks but personality and characterization, so his triumph is so much the greater. He’s caressing, amorous. His voice is mellow, his legato excellent. He’s a cultivated, sensitive artist who ordinarily sings each note in time. When he engages in rubato, the emphases are subtle. He always has dramatic purpose. The other characters have splashier arias. Perhaps that’s a reason why most Giovannis get lost in the crowd. This one doesn’t.
Anna, Elvira, Zerlina and Ottavio all have difficult fiorituras. The singers of these roles all have such virtuosity that not only do they sing the notes accurately but they make it sound easy–Faix Brown in particular. Scarabelli’s Zerlina is adorably girlish. She knows how to warm her tone for intimate moments. Appropriately enough, she presents her tush to Masetto in “Batti, batti.” Dessì’s Elvira is an avenging fury. Dessì and Araiza each have a giant breath span and an excellent legato. His “Il mio tesoro” rivals McCormack’s in accuracy if not in appeal.
This Giovanni is traditional and well prepared–even the orchestra tapers its phrasing. (The Met orchestra, however luscious its sound, tends to play full out at phrase endings.) The musical interpretation is traditional but with occasional interpolated appoggiaturas and ornamentation. When vocal music with, say, two eighth notes to a syllable is set to paper, each group of two eighth notes is written with a slur over it that indicates syllable distribution. These slurs look like phrasing marks but aren’t. Incredibly, most singers don’t realize that. The result is that they are ultra legato on the two eighth notes and choppy at each change of syllable. To achieve equal legato, one should lighten diction to minimize the choppiness induced by the syllable change, and one should, if necessary, sacrifice some legato between the two eighth notes. Anyway, the singers on this tape seldom fall into the trap.
Both instrumentalists and singers–especially Dessì–mostly mirror the harmonic structure, emphasizing dissonances, deemphasizing consonances and making diminuendos at phrase endings on weak beats, which are moments of harmonic repose. There’s little “last syllableitis.” That is to say, the performers don’t accentuate or unduly prolong the final syllable in each phrase, skewing the emphasis from the downbeat to a moment not of harmonic tension but of harmonic repose. Certain tempi are slower than usual. The print is excellent. The stereo sound is spacious, the dynamic range wide.
Did Giovanni have Anna? I don’t think so. Otherwise he wouldn’t still be interested in her–as he most definitely is in the recitatives before and after the quartet, “Non ti fidar.” Once he has ’em, he forgets ’em. That’s his pattern.–Stefan Zucker