Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro
CAST: Conte d’Almaviva: Jorma Hynninen; Contessa d’Almaviva: Margaret Price; Susanna: Kathleen Battle; Figaro: Thomas Allen; Cherubino: Ann Murray; Bartolo: Kurt Rydl; Marcellina; Mariana Nicolesco; Don Basilio: Alejandro Ramirez; Don Curzio: Ernesto Gavazzi; Antonio: Franco de Grandis; Barbarina: Patrizia Pace; Two girls: Maria Bierbaumer & Elisabeth Kudrna-Schrei
Bob Kettleson: forte-piano
Konzertvereinung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Chorus master: Helmut Froschauer
Riccardo Muti, conductor
EMI, 1989 (2005)
Few operas had a recording history as lucky as Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. The first recording, conducted by Fritz Busch, dates to 1934. The first significant recording is however the Figaro conducted by Bruno Walter in Salzburg in 1937. The quantity of recordings of the next decades is impressive. One of the most recent Figaro is the live recording conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, released in 2016, but that, like the present recording, is only one of many.
This recording dates to 1987. It is remarkable for its rich sound, Riccardo Muti’s outstanding conduction and the wonderful performances of some of the singers.
Riccardo Muti’s Figaro
Riccardo Muti performed successfully many of Mozart’s works and operas. Around the same years of these Nozze di Figaro, his performances of Don Giovanni (for the opening of La Scala’s season in 1987 with Thomas Allen and Edita Gruberova, among the others) and Così fan tutte (with Daniela Dessì and Delores Ziegler) were filmed. His presence in this repertoire is not sporadic and of course not limited to the titles of the Da Ponte trilogy, but it will take too much space to list other sacred, operatic and symphonic works Muti performed throughout his career.
Le nozze di Figaro benefits from the conductor’s experience and the result is amazing. Far from decadent or sombre renditions as those of Karajan and Giulini are, Muti’s Figaro is bright and luminous. He really gives the idea of a “folle giornata” (“mad day”) where everything is shining, beginning with the orchestral colours of the excellent Wiener Philharmoniker. In this Figaro, optimism and joy are everywhere.
I personally think that Muti’s intention is to suggest that nothing is so tragic, sad or dangerous that in the end it cannot be resolved in the best possible way and that, after all, it is not necessary to take things too seriously.
Figaro and Susanna
English baritone Thomas Allen sings Figaro. Even though his voice does not lack any quality to be considered suitable to this role, what is really a limit to this Figaro is his seriousness, almost pedantry. Allen’s Figaro is never rough or vulgar, but there is the feeling that the character’s sense of humour has been not only sacrificed but totally neglected. Technical skill and energy are qualities that are not denied to this Figaro, but listening to him is never amusing, neither in the conversation with Susanna in the first act, nor in the pivotal aria Non più andrai, nor in his dissembling in the second act. Not even the energy of the third aria, Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi, is enough to make you forget what was missed in the previous three acts.
On the contrary, few Susannas are more amusing than Kathleen Battle. The American soprano is at the height of her vocal splendour in the mid-Eighties, when she often performed Mozart operas. Her recordings of these years include also Don Giovanni and the Coronation Mass in the St Peter Basilica in 1985 at the presence of Pope John Paul II (both conducted by Karajan). As Susanna, Battle gives prominence to the charming character of her heroine and her bright timbre adds wit and cheerfulness. Furthermore, she phrases with originality and elegance and her accents are often – perhaps always – appropriate.
Count and Countess of Almaviva
With regard to badly matched couples, the Counts of Almaviva imitate their servants. In this case too, the spouses have their strong point in the soprano and the weak in the baritone. If Jorma Hynninen is a fine singer who hits the right notes and phrases with taste, he does not do very much to deepen the psychology of his character. The Count is a noble for sure, a villain perhaps, but his intentions are not very clear. Hynninen’s performance is more than routine, but he is definitely far from the insight of other singers.
Margaret Price is unforgettable as the Countess. She characterizes her heroine as an intense and angelical character, noteworthy for her transport and temperament. Humble and mild in her first aria, stylish throughout the long scene of the second act, graceful and passionate in the second aria, Price has all the psychological qualities required by her character. The silvery timbre and the richness of her smooth voice are features that worthily crown this portrait.
The Other Characters
The singers who round off the cast are generally fine. Ann Murray sings as a sentimental Cherubino, pensive in the aria from the first act, tender and warm in the second and finally – and perhaps surprisingly – impudent and teasing in the fourth act. Kurt Rydl is a generic but vocally fine Bartolo, Alejandro Ramirez is a confident but too much sly Basilio, while Mariana Nicolesco is an amazing Marcellina, who reveals the agility of her voice in the aria Il capro e la capretta – the usually neglected aria in the fourth act that, together with Basilio’s aria In quegl’anni, is luckily included in this recording. Franco de Grandis is adequate as Antonio, while Patrizia Pace is completely negligible with her insipid, out of tune Barbarina.