MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


alternatively AmazonUK   AmazonUS


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro (1786)
Tom Krause (baritone) - Count Almaviva; Arlene Saunders (soprano) - The Countess; Heinz Blankenburg (baritone) - Figaro; Edith Mathis (soprano) - Susanna; Elisabeth Steiner (mezzo) - Cherubino; Maria von Ilosvay (mezzo) - Marcellina; Kurt Marschner (tenor) - Basilio; Jurgen Forster (tenor) - Don Curzio; Noel Mangin (bass) - Bartolo; Karl Otto (bass) - Antonio; Natalie Usselmann (soprano) - Barbarina;
Members of Hamburg State Opera Ballet
Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Historical studio production from the Hamburg State Opera, 1967
Choreography: Gustav Blank; Set Design: Ita Maximowna; Production director: Gyula Trebitsch; Directed for TV by Joachim Hess
Sound format: Mono; Picture format: 4:3 Colour
ARTHAUS 101263 [170:00]

In its source this Nozze di Figaro follows the same pattern as the 1971 Die Zauberflote which I reviewed recently (see review). Both are based on actual productions in Hamburg at the time but were filmed not at actual performances but under studio conditions on the Hamburg State Opera stage. There are even curtain-falls after each act and applause but it seems that they have been faked.
The drawbacks are mainly the same as those I ventilated during the Zauberflote review: fairly dated sound in mono, faded colours, few cameras and camera angles; in short rather primitive. Add to this that it is sung in German and there seems little reason to waste time on this DVD. But - continue reading. There are one or two important things that mitigate the criticism. First we find in the pit one of the great, though underrated German Kapellmeister of the period, and a great Mozartean: Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. He was never one to make a fuss about his personality but he knew how to mould phrases. He was responsive to the singers and had an unerring feeling for the right tempo. The other factor is the singers. Younger or middle-aged readers may not recognize many of the names. Tom Krause, of course, and Edith Mathis - both great Mozart singers and known in their respective roles from commercial recordings. Krause is the Count on Karajan's somewhat controversial Decca recording (see review), Ms Mathis is on Bohm's DG recording from about the same time as this production. Both are superb here. Krause with his nut-brown voice and ardent singing and acting, Edith Mathis silvery of tone and the most loveable of Susannas.

The rest of the cast are actually on the same level but since none of them had very important recording careers they may have fallen into oblivion. Heinz Blankenburg* is however a charming straight-forward Figaro who can darken the voice further when he vents his anger. Arlene Saunders is so noble and human and one imagines the sprightly Rosina of pre-Countess days. As Marcellina and Bartolo we hear two splendid character singers and actors: Maria von Ilosvay, although already a veteran by 1967 - she made her debut in 1940 - sings better than most Marcellinas and is perfect in the role. The jovial Noel Mangin is a Bartolo of one's dreams with black voice and not overplaying his hand on the comic side. All these names should be at least fleetingly remembered by older collectors, but the one that made the greatest impression - and the one of the central characters that was completely unknown to me - was Elisabeth Steiner as the cutest Cherubino I can remember seeing. There was no mistaking her for a boy but so sweet and innocent-looking was she that I fully understand that all the women fell in love with her/him - and probably the men, too. And she sings - now I revert to the present tense again - so beautifully and warmly that an iceberg would melt in no time at all.
The minor parts are also well taken and the whole production appealed so much to me that I still feel a little guilty. The sets take us unashamedly to Mozart's time. This is more or less what my first Figaros looked like, whether it be the Stockholm production of this era or Salzburg ones from even earlier shown on TV. Another asset is that the singers are more or less the age of their characters, which increases the credibility. And finally: this is a true in-house production, since all the singers belonged to the Hamburg ensemble of the time.
My wife, who is a great opera lover but torn in her attitude between TV and DVD productions, was glued to the TV for 170 minutes and said afterwards: This was the most smashing performance I have seen on TV!
All right, the two of us may be a small minority, but I can only report on our reactions. Readers, who can't wait to place their orders, are advised to go back to the beginning of this review for at least a temporary antidote to our possible over-enthusiasm.
* By a strange coincidence I went to The MusicWeb review page of the day, the very moment I had finished writing this review and there I found a review by my colleague Christopher Howell of a Figaro recording from the late 1950s with Blankenburg also singing the title role.
Göran Forsling


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.