I own 6 versions of this opera (it is my favourite with Don Giovanni), but this one is my best choice. I think that all major roles are perfectly fitted. José van Dam has a beautiful voice, measured: funny but never ridiculous, instead he shows dramatic power where needed. Ileana Cotrubas is a good and agreable choice as Susanna, standing almost at the same highness than Lucia Popp. She is lively and witty and her voice really well-fit (compare her with the utterly disagreable voice of the Klemperer's Susanna - Reri Grist - and the difference is incomparable!). Anna Tomowa-Sintow is a really great Contessa: just listen to her unforgettable incipit of "Dove sono i bei momenti" and you will love her singing and this splendid role. Tom Krause is a charming scoundrel, perfectly fitting the typical Mozart's man: traitor, but not bad, just feable. But the two real reasons to like better this rendition are Frederica von Stade and Von Karajan. Frederica von Stade has sung several times Cherubino, but here is at her real best. Just her "Non so più cosa son" e "Voi che sapete" are worthy of the purchase. Less than 6 minutes, but they are the most perfect portrait of youth and adolescence. I don't know how the still young Mozart coped to gather in these few notes the perturbation and whirl of the first love thrills, but here it is to be listened and enjoyed, and Frederica von Stade is the best performer ever of this masterpiece. Karajan leads here the Wiener Philharmoniker in a perfect way: light, lively, but also intense and passionate. The best fitting description in my opinion is: natural. Here Mozart's music sounds so very "as it should be". Always the right pace: quick and lively (but not too much), but also meditative and caressing (listen "Che soave zeffiretto": dramatic and soft at the same time).
Well, after 25 years that I listen to this disc, I am not yet bored and every time I discover something new. Honour to Mozart and his magnificent interpreters!
Received wisdom is despotic. Karajan's 1978 recording of Figaro has been universally pilloried by critics. It's slammed even by his court-biographer Herbert Von Karajan: A Life in Music It was time to find out for myself.
Much of the singing is a feast for the ears: Van Dam as Figaro, the immortal Cotrubas as Susannah, Stade as Cherubino and Tom Krause as the Count - does it come any better than this? Who could not admire the dark tincture of Krause' voice? Cotrubas and Stade were born for this. The lesser roles are despatched with distinction (I thoroughly enjoy Zoltan Keleman - he of splendiferous nomenclature - as Antonio [what a gun] and Christiane Barbaux as Barbarina). True, Anna Tomowa-Sintow is her usual self (somewhat squally and hard of tone): endure her you must. Yet again, the Vienna Philharmonic reminds the world that it owns this domain.
There's an old Jesuit saying: pray as if everything depends upon God and then act as if everything is reliant upon you. It's applicable. Then at the zenith of his fame, Karajan, supremely confident in his own powers and the array at his command, scythes his way through the score but not once does he supplicate the kerygma within. This is Mozartian but not Mozart himself. In consequence, the `cosmic trap' fails to spring in the finales of the Second and Fourth Acts: it's fabulous singing, professionalism of the highest order and nothing more. It's devoid of innerness. For instance, "Sull'aria...che soave zeffiretto" is as erotic as a bucket of fried chicken. Nor do the fast-ish tempi help. Even at this distance, one senses that it was recorded in longish sessions with few if any re-takes.
This is a failure, albeit a fascinating one. It's food for thought but not sustenance in itself. As always, make up your own mind!