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 Recording of the Week, Mozart - Don Giovanni from René Jacobs

The final installment in the René Jacobs’ trilogy of the Mozart/da Ponte operas hits the shops today with the release of Don Giovanni. It is one I have personally been waiting for since last summer since I was lucky enough to be invited by Harmonia Mundi to see the production live at the 2006 Innsbruck Festival. And after the tremendous success of his previous recordings (led of course by the Gramophone Award winning Le Nozze di Figaro), it is one that I’m sure other people will have been waiting for as well.

René Jacobs
René Jacobs

As you would expect from Jacobs the first thing that hits you is the refreshing and intelligent approach. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra play throughout with a clarity and fleetness of style, yet are still able to install the gutsy and emotional moments when required. It is an impressive ability achieved by musicians with complete mastery of their instruments and a conductor who knows how to get what he wants out of them. Importantly, it also allows the singers to still project when singing long hushed legato pianissimos and spin off appoggiaturas and embellishments with ease.

If there is controversy surrounding this release (which let's face it there usually is surrounding René Jacobs) it will come with the casting. After the relatively big names in Le Nozze di Figaro (Simon Keenlyside and Véronique Gens) and La Clemenza di Tito (Mark Padmore and Bernarda Fink) there is no-one in this set who could be considered such a household name - the title role being taken by the 27-year old Johannes Weisser. While the singing is all top-notch, the thing you lack is any sense of nastiness or cruelty from the Don (his voice is too light and clear for that). Jacobs spends much of the booklet arguing that this is exactly what he was striving for and that the swaggering Don Giovanni who never gives a damn is a nineteenth century invention and completely alien to Mozart’s (and da Ponte’s) intention, which had always been for a young and rebellious (rather than evil) Don.

Whichever way you side on this issue (and the more I listen the more I think I side with Jacobs) it will come as a shock to those familiar with the opera, as the balance in characterisation between what was previously either good or bad is somewhat disintegrated. Anyway, a very welcome addition to the catalogue that will undoubtedly fuel much debate, and I recommend it very strongly.