on 17 November 2010
Carlos Kleiber, son of Erich Kleiber who conducted this recording, once remarked that this 'Le Nozze di Figaro' conducted by his dad was unsurpassable in many respects.
How true was Carlos? One only need to listen to this to conclude that there is utter truth in the statement.
Cesare Siepi may be mostly famous for being Don Giovanni, yet he is a great Mozartian, and his Figaro evoked a forthright, witty and wiry character.
Hilde Gueden as Susanna is truly peerless, to be succeeded years later by Lucia Popp. The ultra witty and sprightly duets between Susanna and Figaro in the opening Act is utterly gripping.
Lisa della Casa is a truly noble Countess, the forerunner of Gundula Janowitz who became peerless in this role in the succeeding years.
Suzanne Danco was a soprano Cherubino. Perhaps the weakest link in this recording is Alfred Poell's Almaviva, but he too, did nothing to mar the sterling recording.
Kleiber was judicious in the tempi of the entire work, allowing the music to unfold with the plot in a most appropriately gripping flow. While Karl Bohm conducted another classic about a decade later on DGG with Hermann Prey and Fischer-Dieskau, in my subjective view, Kleiber's recording here remained unsurpassed by that one, and this alone tells a lot.
Given that Karajan's studio recording turned out for some reason to be a dull, chilly, strait-laced affair, admirers of his fiery way with Mozart need turn to live recordings. There is an excellent, live Salzburg performance from 1977, three years later than this one with almost as good a cast and in considerably sound but it is much more expensive and not everyone warms to Anna Tomowa-Sintow's Countess. The Countess here, Elizabeth Harwood, sounds as if she is fighting a cold as the middle of her voice is a little hoarse, but otherwise gives us poised, aristocratic singing. José van Dam is lithe and lively as Figaro, his beautiful voice dealing easily with those passages in a higher tessitura but also able to descend to suggest a more menacing character. Mirella Freni, also occasionally a little croaky - something in the air that night? - is otherwise delightful and charming as you would expect. Tom Krause occasionally suggests a little too much of Wotan in his stern, brazen Count Almaviva but he is a predator after all. Frederica von Stade proves a crowd-pleaser as Cherubino, marvellously warm and touching, yet still boyish. the supporting cast features luminaries such as Zoltan Kelemen as the gardener Antonio; Michel Sénéchal is a hoot as Basilio and Jane Berbié does her regular old bag shtick as Marcellina. The Bartolo is a bit hammy and rocky but adequate.
The sound is decent stereo radio, perfectly listenable if a bit curdled. Karajan is by no means absurdly fast but he certainly injects proceedings with an urgency comparable to Solti's superb studio recording, which remains my favourite by virtue of its voices, although some find it too unsmiling - presumably they will think the same of this hard-pressed performance.
A fine cast, the VPO and Karajan on form -what more could you wish unless it be better sound?
on 6 April 2016
I'm glad I've finally got around to this recording but I do have reservations...
Wonderful: Kleiber's bright sound and pacing the the Vienna Staats; Siepi, whom I've always rated, is a slightly heavy Figaro (his Don under Kleiber is one of the best) but he has you believe he'll take on the count; Della Casa is an assured, well-acted Countess (though perhaps not wonderful); Gueden is a delightfully engaged Suzanna; Corena a perfect Bartolo, here demonstrating he was a great singer not just the buffo;Dickie as Basilio has real refinement as a singer and a credit to the Scots.
Not so wonderful: Poell as the Count has a cloudy, back-of-the-throat sound and a comical German accent to his Italian. If only they'd got George London in (who'd sung it for Decca's other Nozze under Leinsdorf); Danco has a great voice but she does not counterbalance Suzanna - they have the same voice. I missed the mezzo here.
All round it's good but the Bohm (DG), Klemperer (EMI), Jacobs (HM), Giulini (EMI) or even Harnoncourt (Teldec) are far better.
on 16 May 2012
I saw this production in Salzburg (twice, actually, once in 1972 and once in 1975), and can vouch for its high entertainment value.
Karajan was weird with Mozart. Uneven, I would say. In general, his studio performances were not as engaging as his live concerts and performances. If one were to judge from his later studio recording of Figaro (virtually with this same cast), one would be tempted to say that Karajan's Mozart was boring, compared to that of, say, Boehm or Solti. God knows I found his studio Figaro, which I had bought to reminisce about the marvelous production I had seen, boring. But in the theater, he was a different animal altogether: his tempi were faster, his energy fiery, and the orchestral detail he highlighted was exquisite but not extenuating. I remember very vividly my surprise and wonder about an orchestral bass pedal in one of the second act ensembles (Count-Countess-Figaro-Susanna, right before Antonio's entrance)that I had never heard previously, on record or in the theater. That pedal is captured by this recording exactly as I remember it.
This Nozze di Figaro moves, sometimes at breakneck pace (but never inappropriately),and the singing is for the most part exquisite. After seeing this production with Teresa Stratas and Edith Mathis in the part of Susanna, I was wary about Mirella Freni in the part (I expected her not to be able to live up to the precision and musicianship of those other international star singers in the Austrian repertory). But she was wonderful, lively and delicate, and musically precise. Elizabeth Harwood was perhaps just a tad past her prime in 1975, but her command of her beautiful voice and technique is enviable here. Van Dam and Krause are splendid both, and there are some choice character singers in smaller roles, such as Zoltan Kelemen (!) as Antonio the gardener. An expensive singer for all of 5 minutes of singing! I remember the joy of seeing him live (I had heard him in recordings), and I remember the surprise of how loud and resonant his voice was: that did not usually show so much on record, but he was after all a Wagner singer.
Anyay, I consider this a superlative buy. This is a great performance, and one that even Karajan-haters should enjoy. The sound of the recording (probably from the radio broadcast tapes) is very good, and the balance between orchestra and singers is appropriate (the voices are just minimally recessed). It's recorded "up front", too, so none of those thin indistinguishable details one has to strain to hear. Everything is clearly audible. Highly recommended.