OP0111. DON GIOVANNI, Live Performance, 27 July, 1953, Salzburg, w.Furtwängler Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble; Cesare Siepi, Otto Edelmann, Anton Dermota, Elisabeth Grümmer, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Erna Berger, Walter Berry & Raffaele Arié; Erna Berger Recital. (Germany) 3-Archipel 0162. Long out-of-print, final copies! - 4035122401622
“Saying that this is a great DON GIOVANNI, a great Furtwängler DON GIOVANNI, and one of the greatest DON GIOVANNIs of the twentieth century is hardly to exaggerate the importance of this recording. Made on 27 July, 1953, at the Salzburg Festival, it preserves a performance by one of the best casts ever assembled for the opera -Cesare Siepi, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Grümmer, Anton Dermota, Otto Edelmann, Erna Berger and Walter Berry - backed by the best orchestra for the opera - the Vienna Philharmonic - and led by surely the greatest German conductor of the twentieth century. Under Furtwängler, the singers and players create a DON GIOVANNI that is fiery, passionate, romantic, metaphysical, and occasionally hilarious. While some listeners might legitimately prefer a lighter or funnier performance of DON GIOVANNI, and other listeners might prefer a cleaner or clearer recording of DON GIOVANNI, anyone who loves the work or the conductor will love this performance and, despite its conspicuous blemishes, this recording. Indeed, for those who love Furtwängler, the question will be whether or not to get a third Furtwängler DON GIOVANNI. Already in circulation are two performances from the 1954 Salzburg Festival with mostly the same stellar cast, one a sound recording and one a video recording of surprisingly good quality. Of course, for the true Furtwängler aficionado, the opportunity to hear the fabled 1953 Don Giovanni will be irresistible so the question is essentially moot.”
- James Leonard, allmusic.com
"Though the casts were a gathering of eagles, there were significant differences between them. The singers in 1953 were the more important, not only because they meshed to form a more finely honed and tuned ensemble, but also because they were in closer accord with Furtwängler’s monolithic view of the score (a view more strongly implemented in 1953, perhaps due in part to a move from the Festspielhaus to the larger, open-air Felsenreitschule)....Schwarzkopf remains the ideal Elvira, even more fiery in 1953 than in 1950....We are fortunate to have this monumental performance...."
- John Ardoin
“The Furtwängler-Salzburg performances were virtually a roll call of the foremost Mozartean singers of the day, who were molded (with few exceptions) into an ensemble force that amounted to a single constellation rather than a mere juxtaposition of stars….Nothing is rigid; there are none of the false conceptions of style, prevalent with many conductors….”
- John Ardoin, THE FURTWÄNGLER RECORD, pp.100 & 103
“Mr. Siepi was a classic Italian basso cantante, or ‘singing bass’, with a warm, slightly dark voice that was ideally suited to Mozart. Yet his voice was so robust that he could easily summon the power for King Philip II in DON CARLO, Gurnemanz in PARSIFAL and the title role in BORIS GODUNOV. In his prime, the tall, handsome Mr. Siepi, a natural onstage, was a favorite at the Metropolitan Opera, where he gave nearly 500 performances, singing 17 roles during a 23-year association. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, [that Siepi] ‘made an overpowering debut and a well-deserved great career at the Metropolitan’. After his first Don Giovanni at the Met in 1952, Mr. Siepi became the Giovanni of choice in houses around the world, bringing a sly blend of vocal refinement and animal magnetism to his portrayal. Critics and audiences embraced him for a wide range of roles. Assessing an impressive Gurnemanz in a 1970 PARSIFAL at the Met, the critic Herbert Weinstock wrote in the British magazine OPERA that Mr. Siepi ‘really sang the role rather than growling it and acted with touching conviction’, articulating Wagner’s words ‘as if born to them’. He also excelled in broadly comic roles, like Don Basilio in Rossini’s BARBIERE.
At 18, urged on by friends, he entered a voice competition in Florence and won first prize. A manager in the audience quickly engaged him to sing the role of the hired assassin Sparafucile in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO for a production in Schio, near Vicenza. With the outbreak of war he moved to neutral Switzerland, returning to Italy when hostilities ended. He appeared in Verdi’s NABUCCO at La Scala in Milan in the first postwar production at the reconstructed theater, which had been damaged by bombs.
After his breakthrough Met debut, Mr. Siepi was in demand internationally. He scored triumphs at the Salzburg Festival during the 1950s and made several live recordings there, including a 1954 DON GIOVANNI conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Erna Berger among the cast.
In his day Mr. Siepi was considered a natural successor to Ezio Pinza. Like Pinza, who had starred in SOUTH PACIFIC, Mr. Siepi appeared in a stage musical, BRAVO GIOVANNI. The critic Howard Taubman, writing in THE NEW YORK TIMES, praised Mr. Siepi for bringing ‘the richest and best cultivated vocal instrument to Broadway’ since Pinza. The show, however, unlike Pinza’s SOUTH PACIFIC, was a flop. Still, Taubman gave the famous bass credit for trying. ‘Happily’, he concluded, ‘Mr. Siepi is at ease in his new surroundings and his voice glorifies them’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 July, 2010