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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro
Giuseppe Taddei (baritone) - Figaro; Anna Moffo (soprano) - Susanna; Eberhard Wächter (baritone) - Count Almaviva; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) - Countess Almaviva; Fiorenza Cossotto (mezzo) - Cherubino; Ivo Vinco (bass) - Bartolo; Dora Gatta (alto) - Marcellina; Renato Ercolani (tenor) - Don Basilio/Don Curzio; Elisabetta Fusco (soprano) - Barbarina; Piero Cappuccilli (baritone) - Antonio; Gillian Spencer, Diana Cunningham (sopranos) - Two girls
Philharmonia Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. 17-19, 21-25, 27 September; 21 November 1959, Kingsway Hall, London
WARNER CLASSICS 7359592 [74:19 + 78:47]

Giulini’s Don Giovanni became the touchstone recording of the early stereo era and has so remained. Le nozze di Figaro, with 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 is 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 Moffo, Sull’aria.
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.
Göran Forsling