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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro, K 492
Il Conte di Almaviva – Lucio Gallo (baritone)
La Contessa di Almaviva – Karita Mattila (soprano)
Susanna – Marie McLaughlin (soprano)
Figaro – Michele Pertusi (bass-baritone)
Cherubino – Monica Bacelli (mezzo-soprano)
Marcellina – Nicoletta Curiel (contralto)
Bartolo – Angelo Nosotti (bass)
Basilio – Ugo Benelli (tenor)
Don Curzio – Gennaro Sica (tenor)
Antonio – Giorgio Tadeo (bass)
Barbarina – Laura Cherici (soprano)
Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Zubin Mehta
rec. 1992, Teatro Verdi, Florence
Synopsis in English, French and German
SONY 19075810812 [3 CDs: 184:41]

More than 12 years ago I reviewed a DVD with Le nozze di Figaro filmed in Florence a couple of years earlier. The director was Jonathan Miller and I have later learnt that it was originally mounted in 1992 and the DVD was from a later revival. Conductor for the DVD production was Zubin Mehta and Count Almaviva was sung by Lucio Gallo as on the recording now under consideration, which obviously was made in connection with the first run of Miller’s production – but recorded under studio condition at Teatro Verdi. Mehta has since his breakthrough in the 1960s been a busy recording artist, not least as an opera conductor. If I’m not mistaken his debut recording was A´da for EMI with Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli, a set I bought when it was new and later supplanted by the CD transfer. Primarily Mehta has been successful in Italian repertoire and among his greatest achievements can be mentioned Il trovatore for RCA with Leontyne Price and Placido Domingo (his first complete opera recording), La fanciulla dell West for DG with Carol Neblett and Domingo and Turandot for Decca with Sutherland, CaballÚ and Pavarotti. But his extensive discography also covers Mozart repertoire and this Figaro is wholly idiomatic, sensible tempos and great precision. One gets the feeling that the soloists feel safe and relaxed in Mehta’s company.

The cast, as was also the case with the DVD, is on the whole made up of native Italian speakers, which means that there is a rare fluency in the singing, in particular noticeable in the secco recitatives. Besides a couple of veterans in minor roles this is a youthful group of enthusiastic singing actors wholeheartedly delving into their characters. Michele Pertusi, still in his late 20s, is a lively and expressive Figaro, with dark and steady voice, creating a believable rebellious character with a lot of ‘face’. His arias are excellently sung, challenging even Cesare Siepi in the legendary Decca recording under Erich Kleiber. Listen to his Se vuol ballare (CD 1 tr. 6) or Non pi¨ andrai (CD 1 tr. 20) and even more expressive Tutto Ŕ disposto (CD 3 tr. 15). Lucio Gallo is a superb Count Almaviva, sonorous and expressive, and his duet with Susanna and his big aria, both at the beginning of act III, are real highlights. As an appendix he also sings the alternative aria for the Count, a revision for a performance in 1789 and it is still unclear whether it was tampered with by Mozart himself or by someone else. The recitative and the first part of the aria are identical with the original but from bar 55 the tessitura is considerably higher and requires a lot more virtuosity from the singer. Gallo negotiates this admirably.
Bartolo, sung by the little known Angelo Nosotti, is excellent in recitatives and makes an imposing La vendetta (CD 1 tr. 8). The great buffo Giorgio Tadeo, here well past 60, is a good Antonio and Ugo Benelli, in the 60s and 70s one of the great – arguably the greatest – bel canto tenors, is an oily and insinuating Basilio who in his aria in act IV – the score is presented complete – shows that he had retained his smooth delivery and elegance.

Susanna – Scottish Marie McLaughlin – and La Contessa di Almaviva – Finnish Karita Mattila – are the only non-Italians in the cast but both are excellent linguists and experienced Mozarteans and go well with the surrounding artists. Marie McLaughlin initially sounds a little pale but she soon finds the right level of expression. Susanna is one of the longest soprano roles in Mozart’s operas, and besides the long aria in act IV and the somewhat shorter and more mercurial aria in act II, when she dresses up Cherubino as a girl, she has two duets with Figaro, one with Marcellina – all three in act I, the duet with Il Conte di Almaviva and the lovely Sull’aria with La Contessa in act III and a lot to sing in various ensembles. She does all this with glittering tone and involvement. Karita Mattila has a somewhat easier task, but her two arias are still demanding and she sings them nobly and with lovely pianissimos. Monica Bacelli sings well as Cherubino, but her rather mature mezzo-soprano never conveys the impression of a puberty youth. Laura Cherici as Barbarina has, on the other hand, an ideal voice for the role, innocent and beautiful, while Nicoletta Curiel is an excellent Marcellina, and her aria, full of coloratura, is good to have in such a good performance.

Le nozze di Figaro is one of the most recorded operas and it is almost impossible to give a straight recommendation for a best buy: Erich Kleiber, Vittorio Gui, Carlo Maria Giulini, Karl B÷hm, Colin Davis and James Levine are well-established favourites, but there are at least a dozen others that are worthy representations of this masterly work, and Zubin Mehta shouldn’t be a disappointment to any newcomer – even though I saw a comment on Amazon saying that “everyone in the cast [seemed] to wish they were somewhere else”. In my opinion they were really happy to be there.
G÷ran Forsling

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