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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 -1791)
Le nozze di Figaro - opera buffa in four acts K492 (1786)
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano) – Countess; Renate Holm (soprano) – Susanna; Christa Ludwig (mezzo) – Cherubino; Walter Berry (baritone) – Figaro; Renato Cesari (baritone) – Count; Carlos Feller (bass) – Bartolo; Luisa Brtoletti (mezzo) – Marcellina; Nino Falzetti (tenor) – Basilio; Carlos Giusti (tenor) – Don Curzio; Eduardo Ferracani (bass) – Antonio; Susana Rouco (soprano) – Barbarina; Silvia Baleani and Lucia Boero (sopranos) – Two Peasant Girls
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Colón/István Kertész
rec. live, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, September 1964
No texts or translations
Bonus CD 3 trs 13-18: Arias sung by Victoria de los Angeles
live concert ca. 1952-1958
VAI AUDIO 1282-3 [3 CDs: 71:13 + 65:26 + 57:13]

Hungarian born István Kertész (1929 -1973) was one of the most prominent conductors on the international circuit during the 1960s and early 1970s. When he died in a drowning accident off the coast in Israel it was a great loss to the world of classical music. He had a comprehensive repertoire and recorded extensively, primarily for Decca. Dvořák, Schubert and Mozart occupy considerable space in his discography, in particular Mozart. His Decca recording of La clemenza di Tito from 1967 was the first complete version and he set down several other Mozart operas as well. Unfortunately there was no Le nozze di Figaro, and thus it is interesting to find this live recording from Buenos Aires in 1964, especially since the cast is not just a group of "nobodies". The principal soloists could very well have been assembled for a studio recording at the time – and I wish they had been. Studio recordings from fifty years ago are still up to the mark technically speaking but a live recording – and there is no information about the provenance – is another matter. The frequency range is fairly limited, the recording balance – within the orchestra and between pit and stage – is variable and some of the singers don’t take too well to the microphones. Acoustically the recording is dry and the strings in particular undernourished. There are stage noises, sometimes atmospheric, sometimes only distracting, and there is applause. At the end of acts it is fairly quickly faded out, but after individual arias within the acts it is retained until the next recitative begins. This is quite charming at the first listen; it is like hearing a live broadcast and then it is charming to hear how long it is and how strong and frequent the bravos are. However I suspect one wouldn’t feel the same the tenth time around.

Readers with an aversion to live recordings will probably call it a day and stop reading here. There is a reverse side to the coin: the music-making. Kertész has a personal view of this delectable score, which he shows at once in the overture. It is not particularly fast and it doesn't drag, but it has a sense of eagerness, even nervous. It is rhythmically alert and he adopts a staccato feeling that is thrilling. This is not just a run-through of a piece that everyone knows but an urgent request: listen. What follows is a drama – maybe not of life and death but a social battle. In this corner a nobleman, a count, who wants to retain his power, who wants to protect his privileges; in that corner is the servant, Figaro, who is on the warpath against the upper classes. We hear this as soon as the curtain rises: Walter Berry, whose rounded bass-baritone normally radiates warmth and harmony, is uncharacteristically rough and bluff. Something seethes within him. When it dawns on him that the count actually is out for Susanna, this general hidden anger over social inequity blossoms out in Se vuol ballare. In the last act aria Aprite un po’quegl’occhi! he sounds decidedly revolutionary. His antagonist, the count is also aggressive, even barking at times. In the third act duet with Susanna, where the count normally is oily and seductive, Renato Cesari is quite nuanced but hardly seductive. It is only in the act IV finale, when everything is sorted out and the count finds that he is the loser, that he softens his voice at Contessa, perdono and sings beautifully, really touching, in fact.

Maybe I’m overstressing the revolutionary side of the work, maybe the aggression I hear in the orchestra is a result of the strident sound. Generally, though, Kertész keeps things on the move and the performance as a whole is lively but a bit short on charm.

As for the singers they generally live up to their reputations. Walter Berry (1929 – 2000) was a noted Figaro for many years. I remember seeing him in the role in a television relay from Salzburg in the mid-1960s. Argentine baritone Renato Cesari (1916 – 1992) had an important career at Teatro Colón but appeared in Italy, France, England and Scotland. He was Germont on my first recording of La traviata, set down for Concert Hall in the early 1960s. His tone on the present recording is drier and more gritty but he is expressive and has authority. His compatriot Carlos Feller (b. 1925) was Figaro at Glyndebourne in 1959; here though he is a reliable but unsubtle Bartolo. Italian tenor Nino Falzetti is a good, oily Basilio and Luisa Bartoletti (1917 – 2000), a mainstay at the Teatro Colón for many years but also appearing in Italy, is a characterful Marcellina. Neither of them is allowed their arias in act IV, which was common practice in those days – and still is in many places.

On the distaff side legendary Victoria de los Angeles (1923 – 2005) actually made her professional debut in 1945 as the countess in Le nozze di Figaro so it is a special treat to hear her in that role almost twenty years later. Both her arias are well sung and judging by the ovations, especially after Dove sono, she must have sounded even better in the flesh that evening. As reproduced on the recording there is an unpleasant edge to her voice that I don’t recognize from her studio recordings. This particular microphone was probably unsuited to her timbre. No such problems with the voice of Renate Holm (b. 1931). This German-born soprano, who also appeared in numerous films, is best known for her operetta work. Her Susanna in this performance is however fully comparable to most other sopranos who have taken on this demanding role. She has a beautiful voice, she has charm – a prerequisite for any aspiring Susanna – and she acts convincingly with the voice. Her aria in act IV is really lovely. The one who receives the longest and strongest ovations is however Christa Ludwig (b. 1928). She was an important dramatic mezzo-soprano who also ventured into soprano repertoire. She sang all sorts of roles and her two Dorabellas (Cosě fan tutte) and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) as well as Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier) are legendary. This Cherubino is certainly worthy to be mentioned in the same breath. Voi che sapete (CD 1 tr. 22) is quite wonderful. Let me also briefly mention Susana Rouco in the small role as Barbarina. She has an impressive voice, almost too mature for the role. I have not been able to find out what became of her.

This Nozze di Figaro, warts and all, has a great deal to offer opera lovers but there is also a bonus: six arias sung by Victoria de los Angeles. There is no information available about venue, orchestra, conductor, not even time (ca. 1952-1958). This matters little when the result is so enticing. First of all the recorded sound is far superior to the opera: the voice rings out with exceptional beauty — she was recorded closer to the microphone I presume. The orchestra is also better in focus and she sings this handful of arias so magnificently.

Susanna’s aria Deh vieni is just as lovely as Renate Holm’s and it seems she feels more comfortable in this role. Mozart was natural for her, but Verdi roles were rarities. On record she was Violetta (La traviata) and Maria/Amelia (Simon Boccanegra). I hadn’t expected to hear her in a role like Elvira in Ernani but she is superb. She handles the coloratura expertly, the tone is full and steady, her trill without reproach. This reading surpasses most other versions of this aria. Her impersonation of Mimě in Bohčme is well-known through her complete recording with Jussi Björling. She is just as lovely and vulnerable here. L’altra note from Boito’s Mefistofele is another surprise. The role is normally allotted to more dramatic sopranos, but Victoria de los Angeles is superb here. The remaining two arias are from roles she frequently sang. Her complete recording of Manon with Pierre Monteux is legendary and her singing here just as lovely. La vida breve she recorded twice complete and here, somewhere between those two sets, she is at the height of her powers. All in all this recital is a winner, and those of you who are hesitant about another version of Figaro – and one recorded live more than fifty years ago in fairly poor sound – should be reassured. With mostly excellent singing and with this fantastic bonus this set is to my mind worth the outlay.

Göran Forsling


Bonus arias
MOZART Le nozze di Figaro: Deh vieni, non tardar; VERDI Ernani: Ernani, involami; PUCCINI La bohčme: Mi chiamano Mimě; BOITO Mefistofele: L’altra notte; MASSENET Manon: Gavotte; FALLA La vida breve: Alli está riyendo

 

 




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