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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Le nozze di Figaro
- Opera in four acts
Figaro – Paul Schöffler (baritone)
Susanna – Elisabeth Rutgers (soprano)
Il Conte d’Almaviva – Alfred Poell (baritone)
La Contessa d’Almaviva – Maria Reining (soprano)
Cherubino - Dora Komarek (soprano)
Marcellina – Olga Levko-Antosch (soprano)
Bartolo – Franz Normann (bass-baritone)
Don Curzio – Anton Arnold (tenor)
Antonio – Victor Madin (bass)
Barbarina – Maria Schober (soprano)
Basilio – Hermann Gallos (tenor)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Knappertsbusch
rec. live, Gebouw voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen, The Hague, 15 October 1940. ADD
TAHRA TAH 573-74 [76.40 + 78.05]

This is a live 1940 performance preserved on acetates in Dutch radio archives. It’s sung in German and was performed in The Hague – this was the first of two performances given in a production by Erich von Wymetal with staging by Alfred Roller. Though the sound is really rather good in the circumstances – as Dutch and German radio survivals tend to be – there is an important caveat to be made. The majority of the Act IV finale has been lost and this represents something of a now unavoidably grievous loss.
Nevertheless presiding over the ensemble is Knappertsbusch and with him a variable but often exciting cast. The Vienna Philharmonic takes time to get going – the string section sounds quite small and they employ a lot of portamenti, especially in the first Act. Elisabeth Rutgers impresses as Susanna. She begins rather sharp but her impersonation is vivid and imaginative and she finds her voice almost immediately. Paul Schöffler is not in his best voice – he yelps alarmingly at one point in his First Act Cavatina and is generally rather a blustery Figaro. Maria Reining is the Countess and hopes were high for her; she does sing with real stage nuance but there are technical problems that she is never able comfortably to surmount. Try her effortful Act II aria Und Susanna kommt where she has to break for breaths far too often.  The Marcellina of Olga Levko-Antosch is somewhere between mellow and plumy. The Basilio of Hermann Gallos sounds rather strangulated though the Almaviva of Alfred Poell is a pleasant surprise, stentorian and firmly controlled, theatrically convincing.  
Of course there are casualties in this seemingly hasty production. There is a lot of stage business and aural perspective invariably comes and goes. Cherubino’s (Dora Komarek) first Act aria (here “Neue Freunden”) is notable for some very elastic phrasing and a mildly chaotic ending with a chaotic continuo at the end – a piano by the way, as was pretty much the custom. Knappertsbusch was of course never the most fluent or fleet of beasts on the rostrum and there are moments when rhythms are slackened and blunted. Ensemble suffers as well from time to time as in the woolly climax to the first Act where gusto has to compensate for discipline. It’s also a shame that the finale of Act II carries over form the first to the second discs – but this was necessary to fit the performance onto two discs and the historically minded won’t find this too much of a burden.
For all the deficiencies – the lost finale, the acetate thumps, theatrical noises and exigencies of a live performance, the sometimes less than stellar singing - this set does have a rude kind of life, a real sense of communality in its theatrical life. There’s vigour and drama and a lot of that clearly got across the lights, as the audience breaks into delighted laughter genuinely enough. The fact that this is a first ever release makes it even more intriguing.
Jonathan Woolf 




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