I like a mix of different approaches with my favourite classical works. For Don Giovanni, the opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, there are three clear choices, which critics (at least in the UK and Europe) unanimously highlight.
1. Don Giovanni: The Traditional Account
Don Giovanni performed by the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini and issued on EMI (Amazon affiliate link). The wonderful cast includes Eberhard Wachter, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Dame joan Sutherland.
The Penguin Guide to Classical Music 2003/4 (2009 version available here) designates this as a ‘key recording’:
Sets the standard by which all other recordings have come to be judged. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, as Elvira, emerges as a dominant figure to give a distinctive but totally apt slant to this endlessly invigorating drama.
The Gramaphone Classical Music Guide 2005 (2009 version available here) also rates this highly:
Although this set is over 40 years olds, none of its successors is as skilled in capturing the piece’s drama so unerringly… one of the most apt casts every assembled for the piece.
2. Don Giovanni: The Live Period Instrument Version
Don Giovanni performed by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner and issued on Archiv (Amazon affiliate link).
The Penguin Guide calls it ‘a recording that sets new standards for period performance and vies with the finest of traditional versions’:
John Eliot Gardiner’s set is recorded mainly live, and the result is vividly dramatic, beautifully paced nad deeply expressive. The performance culminates in one of the most thrilling accounts ever recorded of the final scene, when Giovanni is dragged down to hell.
The Gramphone Guide is equally effusive:
For sheer theatrical elan complemented by the live recording, Gardiner is among the best, particularly given a recording that’s wonderfully truthful and lifelike.
3. Don Giovanni: The Classic
Don Giovanni performed by the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Josef Krips and issued on Decca (Amazon affiliate link).
I haven’t heard this myself, but the Penguin Guide gives this its highest honour, the coveted Rosette status:
Krips’s version, recorded in 1955 for the Mozart bicentennary, has remained at or near the top of the list of recommendations ever since. Its intense dramatic account of the Don’s disappearance into hell has rarely been equalled and never surpassed on CD. The finale to Act I is also electrifying. The reading is pretty age defying, full and warm, with a lovely Viennese glow which is preferable to many modern recordings.
If anyone has any other recommendations, please add them to the comments below.