Most helpful critical review
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A valuable recording, but not one that gives consistent pleasure on repeated hearings
on 29 May 2011
I am surprised to see how sharply this recording divides ciritical opinion. I think that any recording of Figaro, one of the greatest human (if not the absolutely greatest) achievements in comic opera is likely to divide opinion, but I feel that some of the reviewers may be taking excessively positive or negative views on this. I would, if I may, redress some of the balance by arguing that this is a good, and at times very good interpretation, even if in my view it is not one for REPEATED hearings. Jacobs is undouybtedly an outstanding musician who has offered us some of the greatest Mozart recordings, including his Cosi and Clemenza. His re-invention of the continuo parts, his agile but not rushed ensemble pieces and hisexcellent recording quality is all to the good. I would hate to be without this Figaro - yet, I do not find it the recording that gives me consistent pleasure. Why? First - the apoggiaturas. Jacobs in his essay offers a sound account that singers in Mozart's time concluded musical phrases by either rising the penultimate note a tone above the written not or, occasionally, by dropping it half a tone below. I can accept this - but not as a routine practice that ends up disfiguring every musical phrase. In fact, I would use Jacobs' own argument against wall-to-wall rubato against this wall-to-wall apoggiatura practice that he encourages his singers to do.
Two - the decorations. Again, Jacobs offers excellent evidence that Mozart wanted his singers to decorate repeats of arias, that few did it well and the majority did it badly. In the theatre, the audience is perfectly happy to forgive an 'unsuccessful' decoration, but not so on repeated hearings of an opera on cd. I really find many of the decorations in this recording tiring and predictable and I, personally, prefer the undecorated repeats of traditional recordings. I am sure that other listeners disagree with me - this is just a personal taste.
Three - I am not happy with the excessive use of 'funny voices' indulged by Jacobs' singers. At times, these totally disfigure divine music as the absolutely divine sextet of recognition in the third act, which Mozart alledgedly asked his friends to sing at his deathbed, which in this rendering is totally spoiled by the ridiciculous voices adopted by the Don Curzio character. The same happens in the Act 2 glorious finale, spoiled by the ridiculous over-acting of the gardener and several other characters. I really do not like my recorded operas to have voices from the Ministry of Funny Talks, even if in the theatre I often delight in them.
Four - the recitatives. Jacobs in his accompanying essay offers some evidence that recitatives composed in 7- or 11- syllables require a pause at the end of each line. In my view, this simply does not work and makes them sound affected and unlike ordinary speech. In truth, I found many of the recitatives much less convincing than those sang by native Italians, as for example, in the Giulini recording.
Don't get me wrong - this is an interesting and even vibrant recording. It is just not one to which I will return as often as I do the the Giulini, Solti, Bohm and Kleiber recordings. The singers are good, but honestly, they are not in the league of the Schwarzkopffs, the Fischer Dieskaus, the Taddeis and the Janowitzs of the past. I simply cannot understand how anyone would compare the very competent and sincere Patrizia Cioffi (with her exaggerated voice-acting and irritating lithp) with the great Suzannas of the past.
Overall I am delighted that Jacobs has committed his interpretation to cd and I am sure that in 10 or 20 years' time it will be seen as an important recording landmark for the work. It just does not give me as much pleasure as many of the older recordings.