on 12 August 2003
I also have the recording made by Prey [late lamented], Alva and Berganza. That is a 4 and a half stars recording. In this recording Callas is just a shade better than Berganza and maybe, Gobbi, just shades it compared with Prey. But the differences are very small in each case. The joy of both recordings, to my mind, is the superb tenor voice of Luigi Alva. His partnership with both Gobbi and Prey is absolutely first class. His drunken billeting officer, wimpish Don Alonso and nervous Lindoro are such joys to which to have the pleasure of listening. Add to that my favourite orchestra[ Philharmonia] and chorus and the expertise of conductor Galleria and the supporting singers Ollendorff, Zaccaria, Carturin and Carlin thw whole performance is an absolute gem. It has to be a must for anyone interested in definitive operatic performances.
Like many of my generation, I have been indelibly imprinted with this performance as the first I encountered and still the best I know, despite the fact that it employs illegitimate orchestration and implements several cuts such that it now fits onto two CDs. Those cuts are not that damaging and were standard in that era; the only serious omission is Almaviva's last big aria, "Cessa di piu resistere"; otherwise it is only recitativo scenes which are missing and we still get Bertha's perky aria, so often cut. For the complete score in a scholarly edition with the instrumentation Rossini actually wanted, the super-bargain Naxos issue remains the best bet although there is also a nice modern one starring Elina Garanca, Nathan Gunn and Lawrence Brownlee which is beautifully sung but perhaps a little po-faced compared with this one.
This recording was made in London in 1957 following the troubled La Scala production the previous year - although you would hardly guess that there had been difficulties, as it exudes fun and high spirits. As ever, Gobbi exhibits some dryness on his top notes and Callas wobbles a bit in the stratosphere - perhaps unwisely singing a high D at one point which is true of intonation but shakes somewhat - but otherwise they give a masterclass in how to inflect comic Italian text; Gobbi's verbal dexterity is a marvel. Callas's "single word "Ma" in her first big aria and "Un biglietto - eccolo qua" are both more cases in point; I can never understand how people could accuse her of being a humourless singer. She is certainly sharp and waspish but also charming and flirtatious - and her coloratura is superb, especially when she exploits her gift for perfectly even portamento. The dialogue/recitative leaps out of the speakers, it is so animated; the exchange between Figaro and "Lindoro" just before Rosina's first appearance and the famous "Dunque io son" duet between Figaro and Rosina are both further instances of great comic pace and timing.
Alva starts off just a little waveringly but soon shows his mettle, singing in honeyed tone and his divisions become firmer and better articulated. The supporting cast has a genuinely funny Bartolo in Fritz Ollendorff, a neat, richly voiced Gabriella Carturan as Bertha and a suitably sly, saturnine and oleaginous Bartolo in Nicola Zaccaria. Galliera galvanises the Philharmonia to play beautifully; everything is perfectly gauged and never dull.
More recent re-masterings have made the sound a bit brittle and reproduced at too high a volume; by all accounts the earliest CD manifestation is the most successful but these things trouble me less than some audiophiles. I have a 1993 re-mastering and am happy with it.
on 13 August 2003
This really is, in my humble opinion, the definitive performance of this comic opera. All the people involved are excellent. I suppose I am a little biased because the Philharmonia is my favourite symphony orchestra and as is proved on this recording, orchestra, chorus and conductor, Galleria, are superb. The supporting singers, Ollendorf, Zaccaria, Curturan and Carlin are also in fine voice and complement the principals so well. In such a high quality career I don't think Callas has sung better than in this performance. Tito Gobbi, is well, Tito Gobbi, and this is really the definiive Figaro even considering the Prey version. To me though, above all, the performance that sets this apart is that of Luigi Alva as Almaviva. His drunken officer, creepy Don Alonso and nervous Lindoro are a joy to hear. Not to mention his duets with Gobbi such as 'Quel invenzione prelibata'
The total performances are sheer delight.