It is painfully amusing to read some of the encomiums for this doomed set from listeners who seem inexplicably satisfied with what is, at best, a third rate recording. Of course Mozart's glorious music can stand a battering from inadequate performers but what need is there to settle for this when the catalogue is bursting with great and highly recommendable versions of this extraordinary opera? The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is the most pleasing aspect of this lamentable account but Muti drives much so hard and humourlessly they scarcely have the chance to make their mark; at other points, Muti slows to a crawl without any discernible reason.
Otherwise, we must scratch about for crumbs of cold comfort. Starting with William Shimmell's deeply over-parted Don, we hear a rough, hollow-voiced baritone without any allure or velvet in his tone - and one desperately trying too hard to compensate for his vocal deficiencies by barking, shouting and growling. Next on the block is Lopardo's hoarse, strangulated tenor; the epitome of what Italians call "ingolato": the voice never escapes from his tonsils. Another reviewer finds his singing exquisitely beautiful; I would guide him towards McCormack, Wunderlich, Simoneau, Burrows, Valletti - well, just about any other famous exponent of the role, really. Let's pass over the almost voiceless Masetto and briefly mention Ramey's blank, bland Leporello. I love Ramey's bass....in a suitable role; this isn't it and in any case, he outsings his boss. Rootering blusters ineffectually as the Commendatore; he's usually better but must have been disheartened by the perfunctory conducting and singing around him.
The women are much better and at least have a clean tone but Vaness's Donna Anna sounds as if Tosca or a verismo heroine has blundered into the wrong show; there's too much flap and vibrancy and no slim, steely line. Studer sang a much better Salome in the same year for Sinopoli just before entering on the period of decline in her soprano; she, like Vaness, is sometimes gusty and unsteady and Mentzer is simply miscast as Zerlina; the voice is too plummy, although pretty in itself, and she under-characterises the pert little miss. All the ladies, I must ungallantly remark, sound too old by 1990 (although Studer was only 45) and Muti's relentless pushing stresses them further.
Small wonder, then, that this recording rarely features in the recommended lists and that it is available at knock-down prices.
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