The Vienna State Opera resumed its performing schedule very soon after the end of the fighting over the Austrian capital in 1945. As the ‘House on the Ring’ had been destroyed by direct hits, the company had to move to the Theater an der Wien though it had been closed since 1938 and was therefore dilapidated. This house with its wealth of tradition, nevertheless proved to be an ideal setting for performances by the State Opera once it reopened on 6th October, 1945. It took only a few years to return to an international standard of opera performance; indeed, music lovers and opera buffs believed that some of its productions even went beyond that level.
A decade or so later, studio recordings commenced in earnest. When the Opera House on Vienna’s Ringstraβe opened after rebuilding in May 1955, it boasted an ensemble of supreme vocal artists. The incomparable George London who for some years had been cast as an ideal Don Giovanni, was now joined by a Don Ottavio sung by the Canadian, Léopold Simoneau who was then celebrated as a Mozart singer, particularly in Paris and at the festivals in Glyndebourne and Aix-en-Provence. The attractive Italian singer, Graziella Sciutti, from Turin, was an appropriate choice for the role of Zerlina. After some years in exile in Israel, Hilde Zadek made her début at the State Opera in 1947 and was a distinguished performer of numerous prima donna roles. Her well thought-out interpretation of Donna Anna was a yardstick for generations of singers to come. Ludwig Weber had joined the State Opera in 1945, becoming one of the company’s finest singers; he is heard here in the role of the Commendatore. The already stellar cast was joined by the Viennese Croatian soprano, Sena Jurinac, in the role of Donna Elvira and by the young singers, Walter Berry as the Don’s long-suffering manservant Leporello and Eberhard Waechter as Masetto.
All through these years, Rudolf Moralt with his ideal knowledge of the repertoire, was present as the staff conductor; he ensured faultlessly secure musical direction of performances both at the Theater an der Wien and – until his untimely death in 1958 – at the House on the Ring. Moralt held the reins as securely in Mozart as he did in Hans Pfitzner, Richard Strauss and even Johann Strauss whose works he performed with verve and gusto with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Don Giovanni: George London
Il Commendatore: Ludwig Weber
Donna Anna: Hilde Zadek
Don Ottavio: Léopold Simoneau
Donna Elvira: Sena Jurinac
Leporello: Walter Berry
Masetto: Eberhard Waechter
Zerlina: Graziella Sciutti
Hans Gillesberger, chorus master
Recording Producer: Marius van der Meulen
Recording Location: Brahmssaal, Musikverein, Vienna, Austria, 2–11 May 1955
‘The reading is sensitive, musicianly and, on the whole, wonderfully precise … Sena Jurina’s Donna Elvira is […] first rate all through. … Zadek has the voice for Donna Anna … The bloom, the darker tragic shade is there … Simoneau’s Don Ottavio seems to me one of the set’s greatest assets: virile yet elegant and stylish singing … [London’s performance is] strong and intelligent … I call this the best ‘Don Giovanni’ yet. Gramophone, September 1955