DON GIOVANNI A Lifelong Work
A Conversation with Rafael Kubelík
"I have always considered it my lifework to conduct 'Don Giovanni'. It
is one of the operas I feel closest to, not least because it is viewed as
virtually a national opera in my native Prague where it was given its premiere
on October 29, I787 in Count Nostitz' Estates Theater. Mozart was probably never
happier than during that stay in Pra-gue when he felt he was understood by the
aristocracy and plebeians alike. I have conducted 'Don Giovanni' many times, one
of which was at the I949 Edinburgh Festival shortly after I'd had to leave my
Czech homeland. I have waited a long time for the right cast to make a complete
recording. Now I've found the cast that satisfies my artistic conscience,
enabling me to preserve Mozart's many-faceted work on records.
"How do I view the work? It's a justifiable question in light of the many worthy interpretations from the Romantic era as well as from the present day. For me 'Don Giovanni' represents an opera about destiny, an opera that deals with a personal fate, the tragic lot of a man in search of something that he could really find at home, namely with Donna Elvira. For she is the only one of the female figures who loves him, as much as he derides and humiliates her in the second act. She loves him to the end and is the last person to persist in warning him of his demise. Elvira does indeed sense that Don Giovanni is approaching his end and this doubles her love."
Maestro Kubelík, how would you characterize the main figures in the opera?
,,Don Giovanni is a still young, imposing and strong man. He senses his destiny when, following his fatal duel with the Commendatore, everything turns against him. He is by no means a superficial figure, notwithstanding his arrogant and cynical crowing. The allegro main section of the Overture presents a true character sketch. It is like an early concert overture along the lines of Beethoven's Coriolan and Egmont Overtures, very nearly a symphonic poem about an outstanding personality and his fate. "There has been much speculation about Donna Anna. Some commentators contend that Don Giovanni did indeed seduce her; others insinuate that she would have been the right woman to redeem him from his indefatigable debauchery and callous disregard for others. In my opinion - and there is much evidence to support it - Don Giovanni did not successfully won the Commendatore's daughter. She is a compassionate girl and a lady with a pronounced, typically Spanish, sense of etiquette. Her entire demeanor is governed by etiquette, right on through the scena ultima in which she asks her fiancé Ottavio to wait a year with their marriage, referring to the customary year of mourning after the loss of a next of kin. She is by no means suffering from a broken heart over Don Giovanni. Her relationship with her fiancé Ottavio is typically Spanish, marked by the reserve that etiquette demands. Julia Varady delivers what I expect from a singer of Donna Anna: clarity, drama and the ability to really sing lyrical passages lyrically.
By nature the lovesick Donna Elvira should have a very supple, very feminine voice. I think I've found it in Arleen Augér. Edith Mathis's bright, graceful voice matches Zerlina's temperament. The opera calls for three soprano parts, and I think I've cast them distinctively enough. I feel that the yourig American Alan Titus is an ideal Don Giovanni. The Commendatore should have a massive, solid voice like Jan-Hendrik Rootering's. Leporello serves as the stimulus behind the plot, the spiritus agens; I engaged Rolando Panerai, whose mother tongue is Italian, for this role. Masetto is sung by Rainer Scholze, an up-and-coming talent in Munich and Dresden. Thomas Moser sings the part of Don Ottavio: lyrical with a heroic undertone. Heroic undertone because Ottavio sees himself as the executor of justice.
"Faultless Italian pronunciation is very important to me. Therefore Maestro Tonini from La Scala was engaged to attend to the proper diction."
Rafael Kubelík's recording follows the Prague version and includes the arias "Dalla sua pace" and "Mi tradi quell' alma ingrata" that were subsequently composed for Vienna in I788, but deletes the duet Zerlina-Leporello as well as some brief recitative passages. In January, I787, Mozart went to Prague for the first performance there of "Le nozze di Figaro". It was such a success that "Don Giovanni" was commissioned from Mozart for the fall. Did the Prague audience respond so jubilantly exclusively on artistic grounds?
"No. Mozart's popularity in Prague was politically motivated. Relations were strained between Bohemia and Austria, between Prague and the Habsburgs. Prague was receptive to the revolutionary undertones in 'The Marriage of Figaro'. These were understood in Vienna too, but there, Mozart was dropped by society as an agitator, whereby he was jubilantly received in Prague for just this reason. There, the resounding first?act Finale in C major fell on receptive ears. Viva la libertŕ!' In Vienna, Mozart had to delete this passage." Maestro Kubelík, how did you get to know ,Don Giovanni"?
"Naturally, through the many good performances in Prague, the city of the premiere. I knew the famous minuet from my piano lessons. I played it for the first time when I was five, i. e. 66 years ago."
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