In its source this Nozze di Figaro follows the same pattern
as the 1971 Die Zauberflöte 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 Zauberflöte 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
Ms Mathis is on Böhm’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.
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
Noël 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.
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
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
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.