Keene (New Hampshire) Sentinel
, November 2011
In 1961, the newly rebuilt Deutsche Oper Berlin opened to the public with “Don Giovanni.” The next day, the performance was telecast; and now, 50 years later, the telecast has at last been captured in a two-DVD set from ArtHaus Musik.
The cast was quite a good one for its time: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Giovanni), Walter Berry (Leporello), Ivan Sardi (Massetto), Donald Grobe (Ottavio), Josef Greindl (Commendatore), Elisabeth Grummer (Anna), Pilar Lorengar (Elvira), and Erika Koth (Zerlina).
Since opera hadn’t reached the stage in which every one dressed in crumpled overcoats as part of some director’s concept of “what Mozart really had in mind,” and the Don Giovanni’s hadn’t become scowling sociopaths, the piece is performed with little “concept” at all.
Fischer-Dieskau’s Don is charming, Leporello is clownish (getting the only laughs from the audience) and the rest go through their paces with little conviction behind their well-sung performances.
Of course, no one can do anything with the extraneous Don Ottavio, who is given both his arias in this production, but Grobe has a strong tenor that at least gives some virility to the role.
Lorengar shows not a hint of madness in her singing or acting: Although her opening aria should be a musical study in mental unbalance, her voice is simply too sweet and underpowered for the part.
Even with three hours of music, this production seems to rush things to the extent that the curtain comes down as Berry is still singing the last notes of the Catalogue Aria. Did they really need those extra seconds to change the scenery? In fact, Berry is the one member of the cast who tries to create a character. But we must blame conductor Ferenc Friscay or even stage director Carl Ebert for the slack dramatics from the others.
I must now mention a critical element of this production. It is entirely in German (with subtitles in six languages). Singing in the local language was common back then. This changed when high-priced singers of all nationalities could hop from opera house to opera house, having memorized the lyrics in the original languages.
Gone was a national singing style, but back were the original words. So ArtHaus Musik’s “Don Giovanni” is a good example of what opera was like in that time of history.