Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro
CAST: Conte d’Almaviva: Eberhard Wächter; Contessa d’Almaviva: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; Figaro: Giuseppe Taddei; Susanna: Anna Moffo; Cherubino: Fiorenza Cossotto; Bartolo: Ivo Vinco; Marcellina: Dora Gatta; Don Basilio/Don Curzio: Renato Ercolani; Antonio: Piero Cappuccilli; Barbarina: Elisabetta Fusco; Two Girls: Gillian Spencer, Diana Gillingham
Philharmonia Opera and Chorus
Chorus Master: Roberto Benaglio
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
EMI, 1959 (Warner Classics, 2013)
Among the innumerable recordings of Mozart’s masterpiece Le nozze di Figaro, this studio recording made in London in 1959 surely deserves a place of honour. Featuring outstanding singers as Giuseppe Taddei, Anna Moffo and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and an inspiring conductor as Carlo Maria Giulini, it blends some of the best elements of the Italian and German tradition of opera.
Giulini’s Conduction of Le nozze di Figaro
When I reviewed Le nozze di Figaro conducted by Riccardo Muti, I stated that his rendition was «characterized by a bright, luminous tone» and I set it against Karajan’s decadence and Giulini’s sombreness. Now that I am going to review the latter, I will start from this definition to give an explanation.
In Giulini’s Figaro, joy is never complete. The conductor has definitely a flair for the melancholic side of Mozart’s music and gives prominence to it exceptionally well. Even though liveliness is still manifest in the opera, Giulini prefers a more refined, polished and suggestive approach that has its best moment in the charming nocturnal scene in the fourth act. Add to this his usual refinement and sensitivity (his conduction of the arias helps shaping the personality of the characters) and you will have an outstanding conduction of Mozart’s Figaro.
Giuseppe Taddei (Figaro) and Anna Moffo (Susanna)
Giuseppe Taddei, who in later years sang preferably Verdi roles as Macbeth, performed (admirably) Mozart roles as Figaro, Papageno and Leporello at an earlier stage of his career. Taddei’s Figaro not only has a ringing voice, but he is characterized as a jovial, humorous fellow in the most exhaustive way. Taddei never avoids to emphasize a word or a sentence to make the situation even funnier, so that his singing is actually close to acting. Listen for example to the way he pronounces «e stravolto m’ho un nervo del piè» when he pretends to have dislocated his foot in the long, final scene from Act II. Nobody else before and after him has found another, more effective expedient. Overall, his amusement is tangible and his vocal pertinence makes him one of the greatest Figaros of the last century.
Anna Moffo, for her part, is one of the best Susannas. She sings this lovely role with grace and liveliness, qualities that reminds of another cunning servant, Serpina in Pergolesi’s La serva padrona. Susanna, however, is much more complex than her Baroque “sister”. She is vivacious and funny when she sings her scene with Figaro at the beginning of the opera and in an aria as Venite, inginocchiatevi. Moreover, Moffo’s Susanna is unusually tendern in the aria Deh, vieni, non tardar. Her voice is rich and expressive. For its timbre and quality, it is the most suitable for Susanna.
Eberhard Wächter (Count of Almaviva) and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (the Countess)
When I reviewed Giulini’s Don Giovanni, I pointed out that baritone Eberhard Wächter was «too rough» to sing the role of the libertine with the necessary smoothness. This is a flaw that accompanies him in Le nozze di Figaro too. In this case, however, Wächter’s rudeness is less disadvantageous and, though you still wish for more elegance in the hurried recitatives and in his aria from the third act or in the garden scene in Act IV (his begging for forgiveness is frankly implausible), overall his singing is more suitable for the Count rather than for Don Giovanni and the character’s malice is quite well expressed.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is a haughty Countess of Almaviva, who lacks the tenderness of other singers, but her remarkable temperament and the magnificence of her silvery voice compensates for it. Schwarzkopf’s Countess reveals elegance and dignity and, if these noble qualities do not make her one of the most sympathetic Rosinas, they contribute to create a coherent and very personal portrait of her.
The Other Singers
The rest of the cast is quite satisfactory. Fiorenza Cossotto is above the average with her Cherubino blessed with velvety voice and musicianship, though sometimes she is quite original. Of course, if you have a predilection for bright voices for the young page, Cossotto’s dark timbre will not match your expectations, but she is however convincing. Next to the well-trained Bartolo sung by Ivo Vinco, Dora Gatta is a Marcellina rather below par. Renato Ercolani is a subtle and – in case of necessity – cunning Don Basilio and a funny Don Curzio. Piero Cappuccilli, for his part, is noteworthy as Antonio. Finally, Elisabetta Fusco is a charming Barbarina.