- An Introduction to Mozart's Don Giovanni, narration with musical excerpts
Naxos' series of explanatory CDs on operas serves an important function for anyone seriously interested in understanding the genre and specific works. Its target audience is likely to be friends of opera lovers who may press one of these CDs into their hands in the hope that a very thorough introduction to the opera will inspire them to attend a performance, watch a DVD, or listen to a CD. For the motivated person, this introduction could be persuasive. About a third of the text, by Thomson Smillie, is devoted to Mozart's biography and the background to "Don Giovanni," and the remainder is a summary of the opera itself. The text is well organized and well written, including just enough information, peppered with relevant and entertaining anecdotes. There are plenty of musical examples. Someone who knows the opera may be annoyed that no arias or ensembles are presented complete, but the examples offer enough music to orient the novice, so when he or she hears the music in its context in the opera, its meaning will be comprehensible. British actor David Timson narrates, and he manages to sound erudite and authoritative without being pompous or highfalutin. The musical examples are from the Naxos recording of the opera with Michael Halász leading the Hungarian Radio Chorus and the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia, with a cast, which, except for Bo Skovhus in the title role, is largely unknown to international audiences. This is not likely to be at the top of anyone's list of preferred versions of the opera, but the performances are more than adequate for these purposes.