The late critic John Ardoin writes in his liner notes: "Three of Furtwängler’s Salzburg Giovanni performances (including Paul Czinner’s color film) were recorded; still unresolved is whether or not the 1953 recording is derived from a performance of 27 July or 3 August. There is also a question as to whether or not Furtwängler was the conductor for the entire Czinner film.
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). Even so, 1950 did boast a finer Leporello in Kunz and a more brilliant Anna in Welitsch.
In principle, a baritone Don is preferable because of the contrast created with the bass voices of Leporello and the Commendatore. But Gobbi’s Don, for all its intelligence and authority, is far too sadistic a creature. You feel he thoroughly enjoys Anna's clawing and fighting during the opening scene and that he takes pleasure in running the Commendatore through; Siepi, at least, seems to experience some regret following the murder. Also, Siepi is the more vocally seductive of the two Dons. Ideally, the score demands a Don Ottavio with more breath than Dermota, but it would be impossible to choose between the seemingly freshly minted voices of Berger and Seefried as Zerlina. Berry is clearly the best choice as Masetto, while Schwarzkopf remains the ideal Elvira "even more fiery in 1953 than in 1950. Against her blaze of sound and righteous fury, the paler Della Casa offers meager competition." We are fortunate to have this monumental performance available at last as a good-sounding and properly annotated low-priced release.
MOZART: Don Giovanni, 1953 Salzburg Festival, cond. Wilhem Furtwängler Don Giovanni: Cesare Siepi (b), Il Commendatore: Raffaele Arié (bs), Donna Anna: Elisabeth Grümmer (s), Don Ottavio: Anton Dermota (t), Donna Elvira: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (s), Leporello: Otto Edelmann (bs), Zerlina: Erna Berger (s), Masetto: Walter Berry (bs). UPC #0-17685-11292-8 AAD Timings: 59:13, 57:23, 62:41.