Giuseppe Taddei, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Moffo, Fiorenza Cossotto, Eberhard Wachter. Carlo Maria Giulini, Philharmonia Orchestra. EMI 0946 3 5860-2.
If, for some completely unknown reason, you have never bought Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini's complete performance of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro with Taddei, Schwarzkopf, et al, the folks at EMI give you a chance to sample the performance on a single-disc highlights album. At a reasonably low price, EMI make the CD attractive to curious listeners.
The 1959 recording has everything going for it, so it's no wonder it became an instant classic. It's got a dream cast and conductor (Giuseppe Taddei, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Moffo, Fiorenza Cossotto, Eberhard Wachter, and conductor Carlo Maria Giulini), a great orchestra in its prime (the Philharmonia), the legendary Walter Legge as producer, and the capable Douglas Larter as balance engineer.
The highlights comprise fourteen selections that take us from the beginning of the opera (the overture) to the end, with three or four selections from each of the four acts. The disc timing totals about sixty-two minutes in all, from the complete opera's two-and-a-half hours.
It is one of the few Figaros I have listened to over and over again on LP and CD, thanks not only to the set's superb singing but to Giulini's elegant, urbane, yet wholly engaging approach to the score. No, it's not the most lighthearted or rollicking interpretation; we wouldn't expect that of Giulini. Instead, it's more of a polished, refined reading, yet still spirited and fun. I find it the most refreshing kind of performance for repeat listening.
Taddai seems a touch too basso grave for the role, perhaps, but the ear and mind adjust. Moffo is sprightly and appealing. And Schwarzkopf is simply, well, Schwarzkopf, in her day a reigning queen of the opera stage.
If I have any misgivings about this issue, it's that EMI used the same transfer for it that they made in 1989. Although I was hoping for one of the company's newer ART-technology remasterings, it still sounds good for its age. Or for any age. The sonics are a tad thin, perhaps, but dynamic and realistic. There's a good sense of stage depth as well, and a wide stereo spread. Played loudly, there is the faintest hint of background noise, so play it at a reasonable level.
As we might expect, we also get an informational booklet with a synopsis of each scene; but the full text and translations of the libretto are also on the disc in the form of a PDF file. You'll need a computer with a CD-ROM drive and Adobe Acrobat 6.0 or higher to access and print it out.
For listeners who are not up to listening to the complete opera or for those who just want to test the waters before possibly buying the complete set, this single-disc highlights program seems well worth investigating.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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