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Firstly, I must point out that I own a copy of this recording in the 2008 EMI Karajan vocal works box Karajan: The Complete EMI Recordings Vol. 2, and that this is but the latest reissue by EMI, with the set having been released at least twice before, here Mozart;Le Nozze Di Figaro with texts and libretto, and here Le Nozze Di Figaro (Von Karajan, Wiener Philharmoniker) as an inexpensive bare-bones production now easily replaced by this set as it contains the texts and libretto on the CD-ROM provided.

The recording was made in the Musikveriensstal in Vienna between 17-21 June and 23-31 October 1950 and the producer was Walter Legge. This was the first LP recording of a complete opera in the Columbia catalogue; although criticised for lack of recitatives (see below), it represented the immediate post-war Vienna Mozart style more consistently than rival Mozart opera LP recordings, such as Die Entführung under Krips for Decca Mozart: Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail [1950 Recording]. Although the performance gives us some great singing, and this remaster of the mono recording is very good, it's worth quoting a contemporary critical view of this set (from "The Record Year 2", Collins 1952 The Record Year 2) in full to appreciate as to why this cannot be a five-star set.

"The all-star Vienna set of Figaro has long been awaited and seems to have been recorded a few years ago (NB: the LP set was released as Columbia 33CX 1007-1009 in October 1952, two years after recording was completed). On paper, it looks ideal; in fact, it proves a sad disappointment."

"The first mistake was the decision to cut all the secco recitatives, so that one number follows hard on the heels of another, without the musical transitions intended by Mozart. There is also a vagueness, especially among the ladies, about the pronunciation and (we should guess) the exact meaning of the Italian words, and this further impairs the vivacity and dramatic life of the whole work. Again, the variable recording sometimes casts a fog over the musical detail. But the most serious faults concern the musical interpretation. The men are mostly too rough, the women mostly too coy. Both faults are aggrivated by the reckless pace at which Karajan takes all the allegro or presto sections of the score. At such a pace it becomes impossible to articulate or phrase with any clarity. Thus, in the "Susanna! son morta!" section of the Act 2 Finale (the passage in B flat major, with a running quaver melody in the violins) the voice parts are reduced, by sheer speed, to a meaningless and almost tuneless gabble. Once or twice, as in the "Contessa, perdono!" section of the Act 4 Finale, Karajan exaggerates almost as much in the opposite direction. In general, he seems to base his tempi on a purely instrumental conception of the music, whereas the determining factor ought always to be the vocal line and the words."

"The music of the Countess, being mostly slow, suffers least from the prevailing haste, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf contrives to give us some beautiful moments, though the recording is unkind to her "Dove sono". Cherubino's two songs are so rushed that Sena Jurinac's charm is barely perceptible. Perhaps the least satisfactory feature of the set is the Susanna of Irmgard Seefried, an artist with a delightful voice and a winning personality who has often charmed us both in life and on the gramophone. Throughout the opera, until she reaches "Deh vieni" (which is good), she sings as though she were taking what the R.A.F. call "evasive action". She will do anything rather than sing a phrase solidly, cleanly, legato, and with even pressure. She pecks and nibbles at the vocal line, sometimes becoming so demure as to approach actual inaudibility. Whether she adopted this petite style at the suggestion of the conductor, or because she herself felt it to be Mozatian and Susannesque, the result is unhappy. One of the most vital of composers is made to sound devitalized and affected; we are reminded of those late-Victorian illustrations to Jane Austen in which the novelist's living characters are reduced to a set of simpering "period pieces".

"Some of the male characters and the smaller parts come of better, but we cannot conceal our view that the set as a whole is quite unworthy. Unfortunately, its existence is likely to prevent the appearance of a better one, at any rate for some time".

That was pretty strong stuff from Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Edward Sackville-West in 1952, but, in fact, they pretty much hit the nail on the head. This is a disappointing set, despite the roll-call of famous voices from 60 years ago, and remains of interest from a historical, rather than musical, perspective.

As it happens, a much better Le Nozze di Figaro appeared three years later, in stereo, from Erich Kleiber for Decca Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro. If you are interested, like me, in historical opera recordings, then start with the Kleiber set, not Karajan's!

Sadly, not recommended.
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on 11 January 2010
This recording of "The Marriage of Figaro" can be refered back to 1950. Karajan, at the time a young man, early established reputation as "Master of the opera" . One of his most foremost skils was his ability to get together the perfect cast! The combination Seefried, Schwartzkopf, Kunz, London and Jurinac is simpley unsurpased! I do not beleive we shall ever hear something better! The recording is in mono, but it is excelentley remastered and sounds as young as 60 years ago!
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on 10 September 2014
This is an old recording but it is hard to beat.
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on 23 December 2011
Bought it as a present so haven't listened to cd yet.It arrived on time and well packaged.Have bought other Emi cds and have always been pleased with the recordings.
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