Giulini’s Don Giovanni
became the touchstone recording
of the early stereo era and has so remained. Le nozze di Figaro
some of the same singers (Schwarzkopf, Taddei and Wächter) never
achieved quite the same status, but coming back to it now after more than 50
years it has a lot to offer. First and foremost Giulini’s no-nonsense
conducting, fresh as paint. The spirited overture, whirling away at
rollicking but not breakneck speed is a tasteful appetizer for what is to
follow. Throughout he chooses sensible tempos, giving the singers time to be
expressive. Secco recitatives are generally swift and lively.
He has at his disposal a dream-cast. Giuseppe Taddei, the best
Italian baritone of the post-war generation with a better voice and almost
the same expressivity as Tito Gobbi, is an ebullient - and vitriolic -
Figaro. The vitriol is there in his restrained wrath during the recitative
before Se vuol ballare,
and in the aria he spits out his consonants
and boils with anger. Both Cesare Siepi and Hermann Prey, on the two
recordings I grew up with, are superb but neither is as dangerous as Taddei.
His Susanna is the young Anna Moffo, who is a pert and lovely maid and in
creamiest voice. Best known for some Puccini and Verdi roles she was also an
accomplished Mozart-singer and actually recorded a whole LP with Mozart
arias at about the same time as this Figaro.
Ivo Vinco is a monumental Bartolo, again one not to be tampered
with. His wife during 40 years, Fiorenza Cossotto, though best known as the
greatest Verdi mezzo during the 1960s and 1970s, has the charm and lightness
to picture the butterfly-character of Cherubino. Eberhard
Wächter’s Almaviva is on a par with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in
his violent outbursts of anger and jealousy. In the cameo role as Don
Basilio Renato Ercolani is suitably oily. Listen to Taddei’s
word-pointing in Non piu andrai!
All these appear in the first act,
as well as Dora Gatta’s slightly anonymous Marcellina.
In act II we meet the sad and noble Countess in the shape of
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and she is riveting. Porgi amor
spellbinding. Cossotto delivers a Voi che sapete
that makes you sit
up and Anna Moffo’s Venite, inginocchiatevi
is soooo charming.
In the long - overlong my wife always says - finale of the act we also
encounter the gardener, Antonio, and he turns out to be Piero Cappuccilli,
the foremost Verdi baritone of the following decades. Starry cast, indeed.
Highlights from the third act are undoubtedly the sweet-toned
Wächter in the duet with Susanna, and groaning with frustration in his
aria. Schwarzkopf’s Dove sono
is lovely and so is her duet with
There is a charming Barbarina in the last act, and both
Figaro and Susanna excel in their arias. What we don’t get is
Marcellina’s and Basilio’s arias, but that’s no great
loss. There are vivid ensembles, in particular the extended finales of act
II and IV.
The recording is fully up to EMI’s high standard of this
period but we have to make do without a libretto. There isn’t even a
synopsis in the meagre booklet.
I have a soft spot for Erich Kleiber’s Decca recording from
1956 with Siepi, Poell, Corena, Güden, Della Casa and Danco and also
for the somewhat later DG recording under Karl Böhm with Prey,
Fischer-Dieskau, Mathis, Janowitz and Troyanos but Giulini’s is highly
competitive and in some respects even surpasses the other two.