Mozart, Don Giovanni: Best Recorded Version

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.
Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.

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 Elliot Gardiner.
Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, conducted by John Elliot Gardiner.

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 Philharmonic, conducted by josef Krips.
Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Josef Krips.

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.

11 responses to “Mozart, Don Giovanni: Best Recorded Version”

  1. It’s shame the Abbado version doesn’t dominate. I’m a pleb, definitely, but I do have the Guiliaini (Don Giovanni) and the Solti (Figaro), both highly recommended, but neither match the sheer versatility and enjoyment of Abbado’s Mozart operas. To prove his capability, I saw him conduct Mahler with a youth orchestra at the Albert hall in the 70s and if you can make a youth orchestra do Mahler well, ahem. you can almost do anything!

  2. Thanks Ambrose, I don’t know Abbado’s version, I’ll make a point of seeking it out though.

  3. I must agree with Ambrose when he recommends Abbado. To be honest, there are only TWO versions of Giovanni which left me staring into the blank with my jaw dropped (literally!) in the end – and these are the Giulini version with Waechter and the Abbado version with the young Keenlyside. And, trust me, I’ve heard many Dons, from Siepi through Ramey and Raimondi to Mattei.

  4. I’d really like Giulini’s version, as Schwarzkopf is one of my faves. I find the entire cast is strong, and the recording has great sound for the time with a superior remastering done in 1987. Giulini is one of my favorite opera conductors as I find his pace and architectural concept very good. He maintains a rhythmic pulse I find thrilling.

    For the period instrument version I will definitely check out Gardiner as I love his Bach stuff, but I’d also like to recommend the version by the Freiburger Barockorchester.
    A beautiful recording and very well detailed. Rene Jacobs can flat out sing Mozart!

  5. … I have recently rediscovered the Haitink version. It leaves Giulini standing. Of course Giulini’s singers are top-notch technically and musically, but Haitinks gossamer conducting solidly outclasses Giulini. No other conductor has Haitink’s uncanny sensibility for tempi. Equally importantly, the whole drama is way more convincing than is the case on other recordings, certainly more alive than with Giulini. There is no Schwartzkopf, but Maria Ewing is pretty amazing, and Thomas Allen’s Giovanni is terrific. There is no bad singer in the pack actually. Strongly recommended.

  6. Don Giovanni is one of my two favourite operas , the other being Strauss’ Elektra. I have Muti, Harding, Krips, Östman, Fricsay, Malgoire, Davis, Karajan and Norrington. I haven’t heard the Giulini or Gardiner. I love and appreciate period and traditional performances alike. To throw the cat among the pigeons my favourite recording of the ones in my collection is the Norrington, both in overall approach and singing. The women especially to my mind are superb. Mozart, Elvira and Lynne Dawson. Come on. Too often Elvira, a soprano role, is sung by a mezzo with a pushed-up top. What ever happened to Amanda Halgrimson? A dramatic and lyrical Anna.

  7. The only recording I know which shares the essence of life itself, in all its glory and indifferent energy is Bruno Walter´s performance in Salzburg 1939. I have listened to Klemperer, too moralistic, and Krips which is laking giocoso. The joke life can play on us all and may make it a dramma.

  8. I love both versions by Giulini or Krips. For a question of tempi and of course for the uncomparable Siepi / Corena, I prefer the Krips interpretation.
    Wächter was a fantastic Don Giovani (I saw him in Vienna in 1960 or 61) but Cesare Siepi was not only a phenomenal bass, he was Don Giovanni on the stage, and also Fernando Corena was really Leporello.
    The play the Vienna Philharmonic was absolutely superb as well as the technical quality of the recording. I have both vinyl and CD recordings.

  9. Everyone who loves “Il mio tesoro,” Don Ottavio’s killer aria, should hear John McCormack acoustic recording from 1915. Recorded at a time when singers and instrumentalists gathered into a tight group singing and playing into a giant horn, this recording is scratchy and far from hi-fi. Still, it’s the one that all others have been compared to ever since. McCormack said that if he had to rest his legacy on one record, this would be the one.

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