If you can have only one recording of Mozart's Don Giovanni, should this be the one? Yes. Taped at the Salzburg Festival on August 3, 1954, it features a tremendous cast from top to bottom, plus the best possible orchestral playing, and, beyond all argument, the greatest Mozart conductor in a performance of tremendous effectiveness and overwhelming spiritual impact. Why? Start with the cast. Cesare Siepi is a sexy and dangerous Don Giovanni. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is a strong and self-willed Donna Elvira. Elisabeth Grümmer is a heartrendingly affecting Donna Anna. Otto Edelmann is a robust and hilarious Leporello. Anton Dermota is so good he almost makes Don Ottavio appealing. Erna Berger is a saucy and seductive Zerlino. The young Walter Berry is so good he almost makes Masetto register as a character. Deszö Ernster is scary enough as the Commendatore when he's alive in Act I; when he returns from the dead at the end of Act II, he's flat-out terrifying. But, superlative as the singing is, it's the conductor who makes the performance and Wilhelm Furtwängler brings more to the work and gets more out of the work than any other recorded conductor. He brings to the work his uniquely luminous sound world, his intensely dramatic interpretations, his pronounced preoccupation with the metaphysical, and his irresistible inclination toward the transcendental. He gets out of the work its almost-but-not-quite post-Enlightenment mind, its almost-but-not-quite pre-Romantic heart, its nearly but-not-entirely Austrian-Catholic soul and its nearly but-not-completely rebellious spirit. The amazing thing is that, whether beforehand you agree that they're there, he gets these things out of the work. The more amazing thing is that afterwards you agree without reservations that they've always been there. This is the only recording of Don Giovanni to have if you're having only one.
EMI's sound is distant but honest.