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The marriage of Figaro [complete sound…
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The marriage of Figaro [complete sound recording]

by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Composer), Lorenzo da Ponte (Librettist)

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Le nozze di Figaro

Figaro – Hermann Prey
Susanna – Edith Mathis
Il Conte di Almaviva – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
La Contessa di Almaviva – Gundula Janowitz
Cherubino – Tatiana Troyanos

Bartolo – Peter Lagger
Marcellina – Patricia Johnson
Barbarina – Barbara Vogel
Basilio – Erwin Wohlfahrt
Don Curzio – Martin Vantin
Antonio – Klaus Hirte
Two girls – Christa Doll & Margarethe Giehse

Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Karl Böhm


Recorded: 3/1968, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin.

Deutsche Grammophon, 1997. The Originals. 3CD. 60'31+71'35+40'46. In slipcase. Libretto (It+Eng). Liner notes by Alan Blyth.

==================================================​

This is the most famous recording of Figaro ever made. Well, at least three and a half minutes of it. For it was this very “Che soave zeffiretto” that was used in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), one of the finest original touches by screenwriter and director Frank Darabont. Stephen King didn’t like the scene. Perhaps he wished he’d thought of it himself.

Boring trivia aside, this is a marvellous recording. For one thing, and the most important one, it is beautifully sung and acted. The ladies are especially remarkable. Janowitz is a radiant and ravishing Countess, Mathis a sprightly and vivacious Susanna. It would be hard to find more exquisite renditions of “Porgi amor” and “Deh, vieni, non tardar”, but note also their impeccable work in all ensembles, not least in the divine duettino from Act III. Tatiana Troyanos, if you can swallow the transgender dimensions of the original vocal casting, does full justice to the hormonal Cherubino. Prey and Fischer-Dieskau may not be the most sonorous Figaro and Count on record, but it would be difficult to find better vocal actors than them. Each and every word is coloured with special meaning. To give but one example, just listen to the Count’s astounded “Dal balcone?” and “Il giardino?” in the glorious second-act finale. Priceless! Except for a barking Bartolo and a sleepy Barbarina, the small parts are beautifully done, including the arias of Marcellina and Basilio from Act IV which, unusually for old recordings, are retained.

I have never been fan of Karl Böhm. All too often his conducting, especially in Mozart, sounds slack and stodgy to me. But this Figaro is an exception. For once, his tempi are well-nigh perfectly judged; and though he has little of Karajan’s rhythmic drive and beauty of sound, Böhm is a sensitive musician in a charmingly old-fashioned, Kapellmeisterish way. He is helped by the excellent sonic engineering of Günter Hermanns (Karajan’s long-term Tonmeister for DG, incidentally). The loud end is perhaps a little too bright, especially in the big ensembles, but there is no denying the superb clarity and balance. Singers and orchestra have seldom coexisted more happily on record. Böhm had a keen ear for the numerous revealing details in Mozart’s orchestration, and Herr Hermanns took some trouble that we should hear them.

The booklet contains a fulsome essay by Alan Blyth which you may skip with clear conscience, nice photo portraits of the cast and the conductor, and the complete libretto in Italian and English, nicely printed for reading and cross-linked with the track-listing. Except Hermann Prey as Figaro on the front cover of the jewel case and the slipcase, the only other illustration in colour is on the front cover of the booklet itself. It’s a charming tableau of the complete cast in costumes. In short, a handsome edition of a great recording. Like I said elsewhere, they don’t make them like that anymore. ( )
  Waldstein | Aug 2, 2017 |
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Le nozze di Figaro:
Opera in Four Acts

Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte after Beaumarchais

Figaro – Erich Kunz
Susanna – Irmgard Seefried
Il Conte di Almaviva – George London
La Contessa di Almaviva – Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Cherubino – Sena Jurinac

Bartolo – Marjan Rus
Marcellina – Elisabeth Höngen
Barbarina – Rosl Schwaiger
Don Basilio & Don Curzio – Erich Majkut
Antonio – Wilhelm Felden
Two girls – Anny Felbermayer & Hilde Czeska

Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Wiener Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan


Recorded: 17-21.VI. and 23-27, 31.X.1950, Musikvereinsaal, Vienna.

EMI Classics, 2005. 2CD. 62.48+56.51. Liner notes by Richard Osborne. Digital remastering, 1999. No libretto.

CD 1
[1] Overture
Act One
[2] Cinque... dieci... venti (Figaro/Susanna)
[3] Se a caso Madama (Figaro/Susanna)
[4] Se vuol ballare (Figaro)
[5] La vendetta, oh, la vendetta (Bartolo)
[6] Via resti servita, madamina brillante (Marcellina/Susanna)
[7] Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio (Cherubino)
[8] Cosa sento! (Count/Basilio/Susanna)
[9] Giovani liete, fiori spargete (Chorus)
[10] Non più andrai (Figaro)
Act Two
[11] Porgi, amor (Countess)
[12] Voi, che sapete che cosa è amor (Cherubino)
[13] Venite, inginocchiatevi (Susanna)
[14] Susanna, or via sortite (Count/Countess/Susanna)
[15] Aprite, presto, aprite (Susanna/Cherubino)
[16] Esci omai, garzon mainato (Count/Countess)
[17] Signore! Cos’è quell stupore? (Susanna/Count/Countess/Figaro)
[18] Conoscete, signor Figaro (Count/Figaro/Susanna/Countess/Antonio)
[19] Voi, signor, che guisto siete (Marcellina/Bartolo/Basililo/Count/Susanna/Countess/Figaro)

CD 2
Act Three

[1] Crudel! Perché finora farmi languir cosi? (Count/Susanna)
[2] Hai già vinto la causa!... Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro (Count)
[3] Riconosci in quest’amplesso (Marcellina/Figaro/Bartolo/Curzio/Count/Susanna)
[4] E Susanna non vien!... Dove sono (Countess)
[5] Sull’aria... Che soave zeffiretto (Susanna/Countess)
[6] Ricevete, o pardoncina (Chorus)
[7] Ecco la marcia... Amanti costanti (Figaro/Susanna/Count/Countess/Two girls/Chorus)
Act Four
[8] L’ho perduta, me meschina! (Barbarina)
[9] Tutto e disposto... Aprite un po’ quegli occhi (Figaro)
[10] Giunse alfin al momento... Deh, vieni, non tardar (Susanna)
[11] Pian, pianin, le andrò più presso (Cherubino/Countess/Count/Susanna/Figaro)
[12] Tutto è tranquillo e placido (Figaro/Susanna)
[13] Pace, pace, mio dolce tesoro (Figaro/Count/Susanna)
[14] Gente, gente, all’armi, all’armi (All)

==================================================​

This recording has been harshly criticised because it lacks completely the secco recitatives. It was reportedly Walter Legge, the mighty producer, who insisted on the omission. For my part, this is one of the best things he ever did. I have always found secco recitatives, which really are more like spoken dialogues, immensely boring and completely dispensable. Of course you must be familiar with them: they carry at least 90 percent of the action. But you don’t need to listen to them, and it’s a waste of time to do so. To add insult to injury, they occupy disproportionately large amount of that preposterous farce that constitutes the libretto of Figaro. It is the parts that are sung and, especially, the music that Mozart set them to that makes this opera sound fresh and compelling more than 230 years after its premiere in 1786.

What is regrettable is the fact that some of the musical numbers are omitted as well. Marcellina’s feminist aria about female oppression and Basilio’s ode to thick-skinned scoundrels like himself from Act IV were common victims in those times and so were they here on this recording. Though dramatically irrelevant, both are fine showpieces for soprano and tenor. Their inclusion would have been doubly justified on a recording that presents the opera as a profound character study in music, rather than as an idiotic farce about practical jokers, but it was not to be.

But the rest is here, conducted at a breakneck speed yet with sensitive precision by the then only 42-years-old Karajan and gloriously sung by some of the finest Mozarteans that the 1950s could boast. London’s suavely sinister Count, Kunz’s dashing Figaro, Seefried’s vivacious Susanna and the ardent Cherubino of Sena Jurinac are pure joy to listen. I am less enamoured of Schwarzkopf’s rather heavy-handed Countess, but this is merely personal preference. The mono sound is nothing to write home about, but it’s good enough to appreciate both the conducting and the singers. The latter are more prominent than usual. But they deserve it. Many of their present colleagues might well take some elocution and phrasing lessons from this recording.

I couldn’t help laughing when I read in Mr Osborne’s otherwise excellent liner notes that the absence of the secco recitatives is “so damaging to our large sense of Le nozze di Figaro as music theatre”. Don’t you believe nonsense like this! Figaro is poor music theatre. This doesn’t at all prevent it from being a profound comment on the human condition. Just read carefully the complete libretto somewhere, in the ENO guide or online, and you’re in business. You lose nothing by not listening to the recitatives. It is Mozart’s music, and Mozart’s music alone, that brings to life the characters and their predicaments. And this is as well performed here as it is humanly possible. ( )
  Waldstein | Jul 31, 2017 |
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Le nozze di Figaro:
An Opera in Four Acts

Figaro – José van Dam
Susanna – Ileana Cotrubas
Il Conte di Almaviva – Tom Krause
La Contessa di Almaviva – Anna Tomowa-Sintow
Cherubino – Frederica von Stade

Bartolo – Jules Bastin
Basilio – Heinz Zednik
Don Curzio – Kurt Equiluz
Barbarina – Christiane Barbaux
Antonio – Zoltan Kélémén
Due giovinette – Christiane Barbaux & Marjon Lambriks

Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wiener Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan


Recorded: April & May 1978, Sofiensaal, Vienna.

Decca, n.d. 3CD. 169.32. In slipcase. Liner notes by Stanley Sadie. Libretto (It+Eng+Ger+Fr).

CD 1: Act I & Act II (beginning)
CD 2: Act II (finale) & Act III
CD 3: Act IV

==================================================​

Listening to a complete recording of any of Mozart’s greatest operas, or even attending a complete performance in the theatre, is a hard thing to do. But Figaro is the hardest of all. The plot is the most preposterous farce you can imagine, cross-dressing, eavesdropping, mistaken identities and all that jazz. It is immensely complicated and mostly concentrated in the monotonous secco recitatives between the musical numbers. No matter how well these are spoken and acted, they remain dull beyond endurance and, what’s worse, often harder to understand than the sung parts.*

Farcical plots are hardly rare in operas, including some of the finest ever written, but this one is just a little too ridiculous. You have to dig deep, indeed, in order to find the few thought-provoking bits about class abuse and gender relations. The former was considered risible enough in the 1780s to have the original play by Beaumarchais banned by Joseph II. The latter, however, is timelessly relevant. As long as people wish to be together for longer than a single meal and/or a couple of drinks, they will find the characters in Figaro relevant, however stupid the situations they are involved in. But it’s Mozart, not Beaumarchais and certainly not Da Ponte, who is responsible for this. The music he created is a miracle of subtle characterisation with the simplest means.

I don’t really know why this recording is usually panned even by Mozart and Karajan fans. It sounds superb to me, by no means worse played or sung than Karajan’s 1950 version for EMI and by all means much better recorded in Decca’s best late analogue sound. It is very complete, too. The Act IV arias of Marcellina (“Il capro e la capretta”) and Basilio (“In quegli anni in cui val poco”), often omitted on older recordings, are included here, as are, of course, all recitatives. Karajan’s conducting is brisk but never breathless. Tempi and dynamics are very fluent and carefully judged. Singers are never drowned out. The wealth of orchestral detail reveals Mozart as a master of dramatic orchestration.

The singers? If their singing is flawed, it is no more flawed than that on some legendary recordings (e.g. Kleiber, 1955; Giulini, 1960; Böhm, 1967). It is true you can’t write down the whole libretto, especially the ensembles in the mighty finales of Acts II and IV or the sextet in Act III, but you can never do that with any operatic recording. If you could, it would not be an opera. It would be (un)dramatic recitation. The oldest and still finest definition of opera is “dramma per musica”. Fine diction and vocal acting are indispensable assets; all great singers have had them. But they mean nothing if the music is not presented in a powerful and convincing way.

The singers, again! For my money, van Dam and Krause are simply superb. They leave nothing to be desired. Both have rich voices and stylish ways of presenting their complex characters without exaggeration. Absolutely the same can be said of Cotrubas and Tomowa-Sintow, but with the additional benefit that their different timbres (more matronly in the case of Tomowa-Sintow) fit perfectly the difference in their characters. The worst I can say about them is that they could have taken “Che soave zeffiretto”, the ethereal duettino from Act III, just a tad slower. But it still sounds lovely. All four principals acquit themselves with the highest honours in the ensembles where swift and witty repartee is the name of the game. Just listen to that second act finale!

The small roles are dispatched with brio. Frederica von Stade is arguably one of the finest Cherubinos on record, perhaps equalled only by Sena Jurinac and Tatiana Troyanos, but not surpassed even by them. Bartolo with his vendetta against Figaro**, Basilio with his elaborate existential fable, Marcellina with her plea for gender equality and Barbarina with her unexpectedly poignant lament over a lost pin all have their arias. It is a rare pleasure to hear them all sung with just the right dose of vocal acting.

This lavish old edition, undated but probably from the late 1980s, is accompanied by a massive booklet of 371 pages. All but the first 51 are occupied by the libretto. This is nicely printed in eye-friendly font, but there is no indication where the secco recitatives begin or end. There is no indication of the numerous repetitions and ensembles, either. All this makes for an easy read but a hard listening (unless you know both the libretto and music extremely well).

The book(let) also contains a fine, scholarly introduction by Stanley Sadie about the background of composition and the special place of Figaro in the history of opera. There is also a note by the producer Christopher Raeburn about the alternative order in the third act, presumably more in line with the original intentions of Mozart and Da Ponte, which Karajan adopted for his 1973 production with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle in Salzburg and on this recording as well. You can read more about this in the ENO guide to the opera. As always in those old editions, the booklet is profusely illustrated with black-and-white photos, including portraits of Mozart, Da Ponte, Beaumarchais, Karajan and the whole cast, plus some charming historical curiosities (e.g. the playbill for the premiere in 1786).

In short, this is a great edition of a great recording. It’s a pity they don’t make them like that anymore.

__________________________________________________​
*One contemporary reviewer very accurately described the opera as “Italian Singspiel”. See Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Mozart [1978], Gollancz, 1990, p. 230.
**For the plot of The Barber of Seville where Figaro, then a barber, helps Count Almaviva win Rosina (later Countess Almaviva) from the clutch of Bartolo, her guardian who intends to marry her. For a fascinating account of Beaumarchais’ life, his “Almaviva Saga” and how Da Ponte adapted its second part for Mozart, see Osborne, op. cit., pp. 234-9. ( )
  Waldstein | Jul 31, 2017 |
Not sure if it's my familiarity with the material or that Tatiana Troyanos can enunciate the hell out of her part. Her tone is just a bit too mellow for a very young man, but ee-by-gum you can understand everything she says. Fischer-Dieskaw as the Conte comes off dark throughout. Surely there's room for some lightness. Delightful recording that includes some arias often left out of staged productions.
1 vote marfita | Jun 19, 2016 |
The story in outline: randy husband with roving eye chases reluctant young woman while neglected wife schemes to rewin husband’s affections. Meanwhile, woman’s fiancé struggles with issues of trust as youthful neighbour comes to terms with coming of age.
Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" embodied the spirit of the French Revolution when it premiered in 1786, portraying the comic triumph of skilled and quick-witted middle-class servants over their pompous and decadent royal masters. The Beaumarchais play from which this opera drew inspiration had been banned in Paris for its volatile political content: finding dark humour in class power struggles was dangerous business in pre-Revolutionary France. For the many fans of the effervescent masterpiece today, its revolutionary overtones are all but lost. Yet it endures because Mozart went beyond the class struggles of his day to weave many of life's timeless themes into the opera: love and betrothal, betrayal and justice, greed and vengence, innocent youth and jaded old age. Characters who Beaumarchais sketched as ideologically shaded silhouettes gain through Mozart’s music the hearts and souls of persons one might embrace. A youth trembling with new passions. A young man confident of his cleverness. A loving wife, forlorn, her husband estranged. Couples that, like real couples, can both quarrel and forgive.
  antimuzak | Feb 11, 2007 |
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Mozart, Wolfgang AmadeusComposerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
da Ponte, LorenzoLibrettistmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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