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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze Di Figaro - Opera buffa in Four Acts. K 492 (Highlights)
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte after Beaumarchais
Figaro, Alastair Miles (bass); Susanna, Nuccia Focile (sop); Count Almaviva, Alessandro Corbelli (bar); Countess Almaviva, Carol Vaness (sop); Cherubino, Susanne Mentzer (mezzo); Marcellina, Suzanne Murphy (sop); Basilio, Ryland Davies (ten); Dr. Bartolo/Antonio, Alfonso Antoniozzi (bass); Barbarina, Rebecca Evans (sop)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, 31 July-12 August 1995. DDD
TELARC CD-80449 [77:20]


For more than two decades Sir Charles Mackerras and opera-loving record buyers shared a frustration. A scholar as well as a conductor he did much to introduce the works of Janáček to the western world via his seminal recordings on the Decca label. He had studied in Czechoslovakia and imbibed that country’s musical idiom. The recordings brought many awards to Decca. Ever the scholar, Mackerras had also studied performing practice in Mozart’s time and particularly in relation to the great master’s operas. He worked with singers and, to critical acclaim, put his ideas onto the stage as conductor. He was frustrated to be overlooked when it came to recording opportunities; the various companies preferred their contracted maestros, whether better suited to Wagner or not. All was saved when Telarc came along with a series of recordings in the 1990s. We can now clearly hear what Mackerras had been on about for the previous twenty or more years. His views concerned both orchestral tempi and the singers’ vocal line ornamentation. The period instrument bands and their conductors had already broken the tempo barrier but did not tackle the matter of ornaments with any consistency.

In his Telarc series of Mozart operas made in Edinburgh, Mackerras used period brass with a small traditionally stringed orchestra. The present disc offers a generous selection from the complete recording. It contains all the major arias including those for the so-called minor roles from act four. The cost of their inclusion is slight: the omission of most introductory recitatives and typically the likes of the orchestral introduction to the Countess’s cavatina Porgi amor (tr. 10). Mackerras’s fleet and well-shaped overture is included (tr. 1) and constitutes an excellent introduction to an enjoyable disc.

Telarc have a reputation as truthful recordists. There’s no multi-miking and doctoring. Recorded in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh - the Athens of the north - the project was done in association with performances at the International Festival in that fine city. The recorded sound is on the warm side with the voices set slightly back. Mackerras might have missed some of the great Mozart singers of the 1970s and 1980s but he had the happy knack of choosing fresh, often young voices, who were able to adapt to his requirements and give convincing portrayals. This is best evidenced in the female soloists with one notable exception in the Countess of Carol Vaness whose big voice hits the shallows as Mackerras slows the tempi for Porgi amor (tr.10) leaving her legato in its wake. She is much better in her act three recitative E Sussana non vien and aria Dove sono (tr. 18) where she inflects character and emotion before decorating the vocal line with appoggiatura. As Susana Nuccia Focile sounds young, but in an altogether appropriate way unlike Judith Halász on the 2002 Naxos complete recording, the most recent I know of (see review). Likewise the Cherubino of Susanne Mentzer has a lovely, even, creamy tone with clear enunciation and evident joy in her decorations (trs. 7 and 11). As Barbarina, Rebecca Evans’ singing is a pleasure (tr. 20). Light and characterful, her voice, like that of Nuccia Focile has grown and developed; she takes Pamina on Mackerras’s recent English language Magic Flute on Chandos. The other side of the coin, as to age and experience, is the Marcellina of Suzanne Murphy. I well remember travelling to hear her as Norma and also Elvira in I Puritani with Welsh National Opera in the 1980s. Here she uses her still flexible voice to great effect to give a notable performance and characterisation (tr. 21). The men are less impressive. Alastair Miles as Figaro, so idiomatic in Verdi and the Italian bel canto repertoire, doesn’t come over to me, seeming somewhat lacking in Italianata and the relishing of the words (trs. 2 and 9). Alfonso Antoniozzi as Bartolo is too light-voiced in his La vendetta (tr. 5) and also lacks bite. Alessandro Corbelli might be suave enough to chat up the ladies but he really sounds far too nice for the Count of this particular story.

The accompanying booklet has an excellent essay on the background to the writing of the opera. It’s by the renowned Mozart scholar H.C. Robbins Landon. There is also a good synopsis that would have been greatly improved by being track-related. These highlights allow the listener to experience Mackerras’s fleet and consummate Mozart conducting and also to hear the major arias of the work sung in a form the composer would recognise. Those qualities alone are worth the price.

Robert J Farr


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