Mozart: Le Nozze de Figaro, highlights (CD review)
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.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.