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Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Erich Kleiber, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #3

Erich Kleiber's 1955 Vienna Figaro marked the first complete recording of what is arguably Mozart's greatest opera. What a performance! Cesare Siepi and Alfred Poell bring Figaro and the Count, respectively, to life, and ...  more »


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Erich Kleiber's 1955 Vienna Figaro marked the first complete recording of what is arguably Mozart's greatest opera. What a performance! Cesare Siepi and Alfred Poell bring Figaro and the Count, respectively, to life, and play off each other, as do the female principals. Hilde Gueden's sweet and straightforward Susanna stands out, along with Fernando Corena's deliciously idiomatic Bartolo (his is still the best Act I Vengeance aria on disc). Kleiber's well-drilled Viennese musicians are an integral part of the ensemble. The legendary conductor's sense of proportion, transition, and rightness of tempo still rings true after all these years. Though the sound may not match contemporary Figaro traversals on CD, musicmaking on this level will never grow old. In sum, a landmark in the annals of Mozart recordings and interpretation. --Jed Distler

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CD Reviews

Captures Mozart's comic genius better than any other CD. | Los Angeles, CA USA | 12/29/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Well, the two previous reviewers have given intelligent and thoughtful comments. What can I add? The performance of this magnificent opera which I listen to the most is by Giulini. Many critics find it too serious, but it has a great combination of fine singing, sensitive conducting, and decent sound. Kleiber's recording does suffer in the sound quality, as do many historic recordings of the period. However, music has always been more important to me than sound. As such I value the great conducting and depth of interpretation this version offers. Kleiber's singers are wonderful, especially Siepi. But it is his interpretation that makes this recording so special. How should one approach Figaro? Who is the smarter one -- Susanna or Figaro? Is the Count really dangerous or just someone full of himself? Is the Countess aloof or heartsick? Does the switch in the second scene of Act 2 really fool anyone? Only Bruno Walter and Ezio Pinza in recordings from the 1940's match Kleiber's keen wit and light touch. This is one of the few Figaro's that has a sense of humor and in which Figaro and Susanna really seem to be having fun. There is nothing wrong with the Davis or Solti recordings. They are good enough choices for someone who must have modern sound. Actually, for digital sound I prefer the version with Gardiner on Archiv to either of those. Bryn Terfel and Rodney Gilfry are outstanding. But no one who loves this opera deeply should overlook the virtues of this version by Kleiber. You'll get a much clearer view of Mozart's and Da Ponte's sense of humor by listening to this disc."
A Very Fine "Figaro"
Sheng-chi Shu | 01/01/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"At mid-price, this would be an excellent choice for anyone looking for a first recording of this greatest of all operas. Its main strength is the conducting of Erich Kleiber, who paces the opera beautifully, understands both the light and serious side of Mozart and Da Ponte's comedy, and gets great playing from an orchestra that could often be slovenly under less inspired conductors. On the other hand, Kleiber must be faulted for refusing to allow any appogiaturas in the recitatives or the arias: This isn't a question of "authenticity," but simply of the fact that Mozart expected appogiaturas to be used and that many of the lines would sound more assertive and interesting if they were used. (To be fair to Kleiber, he's hardly the only conductor to suffer from a misguided "come scritto" approach to the score.)Though this is often spoken of as the apotheosis of the "Vienna Mozart Style" of the '50s, the great performances in this cast come from the two Italians: Cesare Siepi is just about perfect as Figaro--doing justice to this character's sense of humor and his rebellious anger--and Fernando Corena relishes the patter sections as few portrayers of Bartolo have ever done. The rest of the cast is uneven. A major problem is with the Germanic pronunciation of Italian-- "qvi, qva, qvesto," that sort of thing-- which doesn't do justice to Da Ponte's great lyrics. Hilde Gueden was a great and acclaimed singer, but her portrayal of Susanna somehow seems a bit one-dimensionally light, without the complexity brought to the part by some other singers who have recorded the role (notably Mirella Freni for Colin Davis and Nuccia Focile for Charles Mackerras). Lisa Della Casa, an even greater singer at her best (that rare combination of a stunningly beautiful woman and a stunningly beautiful voice) is not quite at her best here; she sings nicely, of course, but her characterization makes the Countess seem droopier and drearier than she really is; other singers, such as Schwartzkopf and, surprisingly, Kiri Te Kanawa, have shown us more of the character's lighthearted side. As the Count, Alfred Poell never quite gets beyond stern nobility--he never seems aflame with passion or remorse or anything--and his Italian pronunciation is the worst of all. Suzanne Danco's Cherubino is OK but ordinary. But individual flaws don't mean all that much in an ensemble opera like "Figaro," especially when you have the sense of teamwork that this cast has: The ensembles come alive, and the great second-act finale crackles with energy and that great Mozartean combination of comedy and drama.Decca's sound is not really all that good; it's stereo, but early stereo, and it was done before John Culshaw took over on Decca's Vienna recordings and redefined what could be done in opera recordings. The strings sound thin (they always did, even on LP), and little attempt is made at stereo staging.At the price, with libretto and translation included, this is as good a choice as any. My own favorite, though it's more expensive, is Charles Mackerras's recording on Telarc; Mackerras's conducting is as great in its own way as Kleiber's, but with far more attention paid to appogiaturas and other elements of proper performance practice; if Mackerras's cast is good rather than outstanding, his singers have that indefinable sense of teamwork and they all characterize well. Mackerras also includes a fascinating appendix of alternate numbers. Another good version for those who prefer a big orchestra in Mozart is Colin Davis's on Philips.Among other versions: Bohm on DG is sunk by Bohm's lethargic, unimaginative conducting and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's over-the-top Count. Solti on Decca has arguably the best cast of all, but Solti (a far cry from his thrilling '70s recordings of "Magic Flute" and "Cosi Fan Tutte") is so determined to be mellow and charming that he glosses over the disturbing elements in the opera and makes the whole thing seem too fluffy. Gardiner on DG has the advantage of Bryn Terfel as Figaro, but somehow the performance doesn't come together; it's better sampled on the video version with the same cast and conductor. Giulini on EMI is a very fine (and cheap) performance, maybe a bit lacking in sheer fun and with Basilio and Marcellina's arias cut. (Incidentally, on Kleiber's recording, Marcellina's aria is sung by Hilde Gueden--dramatically nonsensical, but, considering how much trouble some singers of Marcellina have with this aria, perhaps musically wise.)So, I would say, if you're new to this opera and want a good, relatively inexpensive performance that you can't go wrong with, get the Kleiber. Then, if you fall in love with this opera (and you will), get the Mackerras set for a more "authentic"--but not academic--performance. Then you'll probably want to go out and buy still more recordings of this great work in the eternal, vain quest for that which can never be: the perfect "Figaro.""
The Classic Figaro -- A Must for all Mozarteans
Sheng-chi Shu | Singapore | 07/05/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Erich Kleiber's 1955 Decca recording has stood the test of time as one of the truly great classics of the grammophone. No other conductor, except perhaps Karl Bohm, approaches the old maestro in the near-ideal marriage of dramatic thrust and humour. Kleiber, more than any other maestro, brings out the warm humanity of the score and the intimate, household spirit and gaiety of the Almaviva household, yet manages at the same time to keep up the momentum of an intensifying drama. The great Act II and IV finales serve as templates for Kleiber's superb mastery. The cast is one that could be found performing Figaro on a particularly good night at the Vienna State Opera in the 1950s. It consists of some of the best Mozart singers of the time. Caesare Siepi is a dark and virile Figaro, intelligently characterized and well-contrasted with the menacing authority of Alfred Poell's Count Almaviva. On the downside, I have to say that Siepi's voice colour is a bit too dark and Poell sounds rather aged when compared to Thomas Allen on the 1981 Solti recording. There are also pros and cons for the trio of female principals: Lisa Della Casa's voice is a bit shrill and undernourished, yet she illuminates the score as well as any and there are moments of breathtaking beauty, such as the letter duet with Susanna in Act III. Hilde Gueden's Susanna is both scheming and kittenish, very much a Viennese soubrette. Her warm, golden tone certainly has its appeals. She is constantly at the centre of the drama despite some unsteady moments, especially in her Act IV aria. Suzanne Danco's Cherubino is admittedly too girlish and the character she projects is rather cool and unendearing, even though she sings all her music spot-on. Yet, inspite of the reservations expressed on the principal singers, the performance overall glows with heart-warming beauty and affection, all thanks to Kleiber's artistry. The recording, made during the early stereo era, is definitely not up to today's standards, yet the balance between voice and orchestra is superbly achieved and the meticulous 20-bit remastering process brings marked improvement over the previous digitally remastered version. The final verdit is clear --- whichever sets of Figaro you own, this bottle of frangrant old wine should be on your shelf."