Strephon | Montana, USA | 06/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"On this recording I found perfection.
Lucia Popp is a wonderful Countess. Her performance maintains a dignity, a cheerfulness and a hopefulness where some would only aim for a mournful Countess. Her ensembles and duets are truly joyous, while her solos bring tears through their honesty.
But what is a Countess without a Count? Ruggero Raimondi is lusty, vengeful, and incredibly charming. In fact, he's one of the highlights of the recording. He takes a role that is usually played as a stomping, raging barritone and makes it human. And when the Countess forgives her husband, the moment is played touchingly by Lucia Popp and Ruggero Raimondi.
Jose Van Dam is a great Figaro, and though he seems extremely irate during nearly every recetative, his voice is very nice and very round during the actual singing. Some have said that his performance of Figaro is a little too gruff and mean, but I disagree. He plays the part knowing he isn't Rossini's jolly Barber of Seville, but that he's a man whose wife is about to be stolen. And as his wife, Susanna, Barbara Hendricks is enjoyable. Barbara Hendricks is pert and coy, and quite good.
As for Cherubino, the talented greek Agnes Baltsa plays the youthful page-boy. The problem that first arises is that Ms. Baltsa does not sound like a boy, youthful or otherwise. What sets Agnes Baltsa way above the rest is not in how much she sounds like a boy, which no one really expects in this opera, but how well she plays a boy. While most Cherubino's yearn and pine and long for love, Agnes Baltsa seems to know the male mind a bit better. Her lusty and incredibly rapid "Non So Piu Cosa Son, Cosa Faccio" is a teenage boy personified. And "Voi Che Sapete" is especially enjoyable if you are a fan of Ms. Baltsa's unique voice.
Robert Lloyd's Bartolo is splendid and dictatorial. Every note sinks into menace during "La Vendetta". Though I admit Kurt Moll is better, Kurt Moll just isn't on a recording as good as this.
Felicity Palmer is a real joy as the villainous man-hunter Marcellina. Her tone is wide and her expression is amazing. "Via Resti Servita Madame Brillante" is a true joy, but she really comes out with both barrels blazing during the magnificent "Riconsci In Questemplesso". Her character suddenly changes from fiend to loving mother with ease, and her tone is rich and welcoming. Finally, in "Il Capro E La Capretta" she balances anger and motherly love in perfect unison (Though she seems to skip a note or two during the first coloratura passage). She sounds like an old, fat woman (though Ms. Palmer isn't either) and a few listners may prefer a less amusing performance.
Don Basilio, played by Aldo Baldin, is delecatably cruel and self-assured. This is the way Don Basilio should be played, though most tenors snivel and whine through the part. Aldo Baldin takes such delight in the mischievious music master, that he is the best Basilio I've heard. His solo in Act 4 is pretentious, self indulgent and everything else it ought to be.
Donald Maxwell plays a fine Antonio, not over-done, and Cathryn Pope plays a splendid Barbarina. The only draw back after such a magnificent cast is Don Curzio, a comic role played by Neil Jenkins, who just can't stutter convincingly, though he sings fine.
This recording is indeed the best available recording and should be added to any opera collection. I find that it's better to know the opera first, though, because the CD ROM Libretto cannot be read while listening to the music. Buy this CD!"
Weak Susanna (maybe), mediocre artistry
J. Wayland Eheart | east central Illinois | 08/15/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Look here. When the opera starts and Figaro finishes measuring the room, I want to HEAR Susanna. It was SOOOO disappointing just barely to be able to hear her over the instruments. Maybe we can't blame Barbara; she does a great job on Guisne lafin il momento in the last act, and generally has a wonderfully sweet voice. Maybe it was a recording engineer who didn't mike her properly or turn up the gain on her mike sufficiently. Mixing, after all, is an art that contributes mightily to the pleasure one derives from a recording, and, in my opinion, the mixer's name should be right on the front cover, along with the conductor's (it was not listed at all for this recording, even though the cover photographer's and the liner notes author's were). But, bottom line, I sort of got off on the wrong foot with Barbara and was looking for weakness from her for the rest of the recording. I wanted to be objective, but it was hard, given my initial disappointment. As noted in previous reviews, Lucia Popp does a wonderful Contessa, and I never had any trouble hearing her.
The artistry is good but not compelling. I was humming along, but not jumping in my chair.
Generally, this is a good recording that is satisfying and a good deal at $25. But it lacks a certain richness that is typical of EMI and DGG recordings. BTW, it doesn't have a full libretto, so you may want to dig out your old one from your LP recording.
Enjoy...if you can.