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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro

Italo Tajo (bar) Figaro; Alda Noni (soprano) Susanna; Sesto Bruscantini - Count Almaviva; Gabriella Gatti (soprano) Countess; Jolanda Gardina - Cherubino; Mitì Truccato Pace - Marcellina; Fernando Corena - Bartolo; Angelo Mercuriali - Don Basilio; Manfredi Ponz de Leon - Don Curzio; Graziella Sciutti - Barbarina; Cristiano Dalamangas - Antonio
Chorus and Orchestra of RAI, Rome/Fernando Previtali.
Notes and text included. Rec. Rome, 1951.
WARNER FONIT 5050467-1046-2-4 [72'25 + 75'43]

Great fun here, a real trip down memory lane in terms of performance practice, and plenty of spirit to boot. Fernando Previtali is the reliable guiding hand, who clearly has an intimate knowledge of the score and who accompanies his singers in fine fashion.

The recording is as might be expected from early ’fifties Italian Radio: adequate, with some loss of detail and somewhat edgy upper strings.

The Overture is a bustling explosion of joy. The opening of the first number (the measuring Figaro and Susanna) is strange in that at 0’46 the first violins seem to divide in opinion as to when to leap to the upper note!. No way would that get into a modern recording, but here it is. The tempo here is sedate, the Susanna (Alda Noni) a bit overly-vibrato-ed for modern ears. Noni is much better in the recitative that follows, when for the first time some sense of sparkle enters the sound-stage.

Figaro’s ‘Se a caso madama’ is similarly sedate (although blessed with a funny bell-imitation from Italo Tajo). In keeping with the general feel, Bartolo’s ‘La vendetta’ comes across rather heavy-handed here from Fernando Corena, but nevertheless retains a certain grandeur. Tajo’s ‘Non piu andrai’ is marred by ensemble disagreements between orchestra and singer, which, believe me, grate on repeated hearings, but Tajo can pull it out of the bag, and does so on numerous occasions throughout.

Possibly the greatest shame of this set comes in the form of ‘Porgi amor’. There is some pitch slippage on the heavy opening string chords, especially, which is most distracting. No surprise by now that the tempo is slow (almost comatose, in fact). Gabriella Gatti as the Countess is fine, sustaining her (long) line well in a very delicate and (surprise) slow ‘Dove sono’ – Gatti passes the test of breath-control admirably.

Jolanda Gardino is a large-voiced Cherubino (try ‘Non so più’), who comes into her own in Act II’s ‘Voi che sapete’ (as does the RAI’s principal clarinettist, providing some marvellous solo playing). Far more attractive is Susanna’s (i.e. Noni’s) ‘Venite inginocchiatevi’, delivered with a light and pert tone.

Of the smaller parts, Miti Truccato Pace makes for an affecting Marcellina and Cristiano Dalamangas makes the most of Antonio’s tiny contribution.

It is the big finales to the acts that show the real weakness of this set, for they are so resolutely studio (read ‘earth)-bound. Of all operas in the repertoire, this one needs sparkling vivacity of a sort this production cannot really invoke. The delicate sections work well, but even there one should be aware this is not historically-aware Mozart; try CD2, track 7 – Act III’s ‘Cosa mi narri!’ and on – for a prime example of this.

As mentioned above, the recording has a welcome period aspect to it, quite warm, mostly. Unfortunately there is some periodic distortion - in the last track of CD1, for example.

A mixed reception then, but a recommendation nonetheless. The spirit of Mozart shines through (occasionally only just!), as does Previtali’s love of the score. Fans of Corena, Tajo, Bruscantini and Sciutti will want it anyway, for completeness’ sake.

Colin Clarke

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