Don Ottavio,the tenor in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, is opera’s biggest nebish. After being alone in a bedroom with Giovanni, a life with Ottavio seem worse to Donna Anna than 100 flights on American Eagle. I think after more than two centuries Ottavio’s still waiting for her to agree to marry him. But he has two great arias. ‘Dalla sua pace’ in the first act and the subject of this post in the second.
Only the second of these arias was performed in Prague the site of the opera’s first performance. It proved too difficult for the tenor who sang Ottavio in the Vienna premiere, so Mozart omitted it ands wrote ‘Dalla sua pace’ . It’s no snooze in the sun, but it’s not as difficult as “Il mio tesoro’. Of course, today tenors sing both arias.
‘Il mio tesoro’ has no high notes, but it requires both beauty of tone and extraordinary technique. To fully realize the aria the singer must have endless breath, great facility with coloratura singing, while maintaining the purest cantilena. It has long passages which should be taken in a single breath. Tenors who do not have sufficient reserves of air either take a breath where there shouldn’t be one or take the piece at a faster tempo reducing the need for an occult breath. The lyrics with an English translation are below.
For more than a century the gold standard for this aria has been John McCormack’s recording. The Irish tenor started out in opera, but as his career progressed he sang less opera and more recitals until he completely abandoned opera. In the process he became very rich. John McCormack – Il mio tesoro
Cesare Valletti’s rendition was even better, in my opinion, as he had everything McCormack had plus a more beautiful tone and a better lyric line. He sang Don Ottavio 32 times at the Met. It was his debut role at the New York House. I heard his Don Ottavio several times at the Met. He was a wonder of style, grace and beauty of expression. Cesare Valletti – Il mio tesoro
Another near perfect interpretation of the number is by the late Fritz Wunderlich who died just a few weeks before he was to make his Met debut in this very role. The wonderful Wunderlich sings the aria in German. Fritz Wunderlich – Il mio tesoro
The Peruvian tenor Luigi Alva was another superb Ottavio. Of his 102 performance with the Met only two were as Ottavio. Luigi Alva – Il mio tesoro
I think the four performances are the class of the pack. Those below, while quite good, are either sung in a less than pure Mozartian style or are sometimes a breath or two too many. But make up your own mind.
Jan Peerce had a long and very distinguished career at the Met. He also was a favorite of Arturo Toscanini. His tone was somewhat constricted – a prime example of the ‘cravat tenor’, but his technique was first class. This version of the aria contains an extra breath, It was made in 1944 during a radio concert. When I heard Peerce sing the aria at the Met in the late 50s there was no extra breath.
Il mio tesoro – Jan Peerce
Jussi Björling was one of the wonders of the 20th century. I don’t believe he ever sang Ottavio outside of Sweden. This recording is from a recital. Jussi Björling- Il mio tesoro
Nicolai Gedda sang Ottavio 33 times during his long career at the Met. I heard one of these performances. He was very good, but not quite up to the standard set by Valletti. His voice is rich and firm, but he lacks the elegance of his Italian colleague. Nicolai Gedda- Il mio tesoro
Alfredo Kraus was one of the great stylists of his time. I heard him many times, both in New York and Chicago, but never in Mozart. In this interpretation he runs a little short of gas at a few spots. His studio recordings of the aria do not have this problem.
Alfredo Kraus – Il mio tesoro
Placido Domingo seems to have sung every note ever put to paper. So I assume he’s done it in a staged performance somewhere. This is a studio recording with an extra breath or so. Placido Domingo – Il mio tesoro
Rolando Villazon got off to a sensational start as “the next Placido Domingo.” But in 2007 his voice cratered, he had surgery, and was never the same afterwards. more recently he has tried to make a new career as a Mozart tenor. Rolando Villazon – Il mio tesoro
Juan Diego Florez is, of course, known as a virtuoso bel canto tenor. He has all the notes, but not quite enough grace. Juan Diego Florez – Il mio tesoro
Piotr Beczala is a lyric tenor note noted for his Mozart. He does a very credible job with the aria, though he clearly is not a Mozart tenor. Piotr Beczala -Il mio tesoro
Unfortunately, we don’t have any currently active tenors who can fully realize this aria the way Valletti, Wunderlich, and Alva could. But you never know what’s around the next corner.
Il mio tesoro intanto
andate a consolar,
e del bel ciglio il pianto
cercate di asciugar.
Ditele che i suoi torti
a vendicar io vado
che sol di stragi e morti
nunzio vogl’io tornar.
Meanwhile, my treasure
go and console,
and from her lovely eyes
try to dry the tears.
Tell her that her wrongs
I am going to avenge,
that I shall not return
except with tidings of death.