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Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro / Berry, Grist, Bohm

Mozart / Bohm / Berry / Grist / Wixell / Watson
Release Date: 08/25/2009 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 107057  
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Alfred PfeifelEdith MathisZoltan KéléménWalter Berry,   ... 
Conductor:  Karl Böhm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera ChorusVienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Il Conte di Almaviva – Ingvar Wixell
La Contessa di Almaviva – Claire Watson
Susanna – Reri Grist
Figaro – Walter Berry
Basilio – David Thaw
Bartolo – Zoltan Kelemen
Marcellina – Margarethe Bence
Cherubino – Edith Mathis
Antonio – Klaus Hirte
Barbarina – Deirdre Aselford
Don Curzio – Alfred Pfeifle

Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Karl Böhm, conductor

Günther Rennert, stage director
Ludwig Heinrich, set and costume design

Recorded live from the Salzburger Festspiele, 1966.

Read more format: NTSC 4:3 B/W
Sound format: PCM Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese
Running time: 180 mins
No. of DVDs: 2 (DVD 9)


MOZART Le Nozze di Figaro Karl Böhm, cond; Ingvar Wixell ( Count Almaviva ); Claire Watson ( Countess Almaviva ); Reri Grist ( Susanna ); Walter Berry ( Figaro ); David Thaw ( Basilio ); Zoltan Kelemen ( Bartolo ); Margarethe Bence ( Marcellina ); Edith Mathis ( Cherubino ); Klaus Hirte ( Antonio ); Deirdre Aselford ( Barbarina ); Alfred Pfeifle ( Don Curzio ); Vienna Ph; Vienna St Op Ch ARTHAUS MUSIK (2 DVDs: 180:00) Live: Salzburg 1966

History can be found in live recordings at Salzburg. Arturo Toscanini’s Falstaff, Die Zauberflöte , and Die Meistersinger were all captured live via audio recordings on stage in the late 1930s. Wilhelm Fürtwangler and Karl Böhm were in turn recorded live beginning in the 1940s. It wasn’t until 1966, though, that the Austrian government-run broadcasting system realized the value of televising the occasional live performance from Salzburg, and it was to Böhm that they turned, once again. With a new staging by Günther Rennert and a cast of young singers, Le Nozze di Figaro led off the annual festival to great success that year.

There is a palpable sense of occasion. The audience responds vociferously, and after most of the arias, the singers turn and bow out of character. Watson even returns after exiting during the ritornello of her “Dove sono” to howls of applause. It is another tradition, and another time, so it wouldn’t do to criticize it too much. Nor to express a great deal of concern for the often clumsy camerawork. The filming was clearly an afterthought. At its best, as in “Voi che sapete,” the focus is on a single, theatrically vibrant singer from the waist up. At its worst, as in the act II finale, we get establishing shots that leave out two characters at the edge of the frame, diagonal shots of silent characters in the foreground blocking singing ones in the back, and camera movement between groups and individuals that is quick and without reason.

The performers are clearly focused on their live Salzburg audience, with the result that those with the most visceral energy—Walter Berry and Edith Mathis—appear almost manic from the camera’s overly intimate perspective. They supply inimitable portraits, however, all the more so for coming at a time when operatic acting on the world’s best-known stages was less a matter of character than mastering 10 all-purpose gestures. To watch Berry’s Italianate Figaro—visibly proud, witty, sarcastic, loving, angry, all of it up front and in your face—or the gawky, sublime youth of a Cherubino that Mathis provides (the best I’ve ever heard, though in German, on the old Suitner/Dresden Staatskapelle recording, now on Berlin Classics 2096) is to see something that has never been duplicated. There are scheming Figaros and lovestruck Cherubinos aplenty, but these stick in the mind, both for their marvelous sound and theatrical insight.

Equally good, in their own way, are Zoltan Kelemen and Margarethe Bence. Kelemen was a superb character singer; Bence was every bit his equal, though she is perhaps best known today for her Bach. Unlike so many versions of Figaro that reduce the forces arrayed against the hero into doddering, Hoffmannesque caricatures, this pair is formidable. Kelemen gives us a smiling and focused Bartolo, while Bence’s precise facial and hand gestures make her the clear winner in the battle duet of “Via resti servita” until Susanna hits by intuition upon her enemy’s weak point. Vocally they are above the average, as well, and this is the first time I can recall regretting the loss of Mozart’s uninspired aria “Il capro e la capretta” in act IV.

The rest of the cast is successful, if not quite at the same level. Ingvar Wixell’s powerful, solid, well-produced baritone makes up for a certain stodginess and lack of concentration in his depiction of the Count—most obviously in the way his eyes repeatedly wander off during concerted pieces. Claire Watson is a regal, emotionally withdrawn Countess, opening up only in her finely spun pair of arias. (“Dove sono” in particular has some ravishingly beautiful soft tone.) Reri Grist is pert and charming, perhaps slightly inexpressive in her features though physically spry, only showing a deeper side in the last verse of “Deh, vieni.” David Thaw does regrettably fit the aged, crabbed stereotypes of Figaro’s foes, though he sings Don Basilio effectively enough.

Ludwig Heinrich’s sets are among the most realistic I’ve observed in many productions, with its dull plaster-like walls relieved by sconces and the occasional stair or decorative shield. The costumes are excellent, and director Rennert uses the stage effectively. Böhm furnishes an unhurried but also unsentimental musical interpretation, seconding his soloists with rare attentiveness.

The black-and-white image, presented in 4:3 format, has been well preserved. Contrast is good, and detailed grays are evident throughout. Sound is only in PCM mono, but digital restoration has left it in excellent shape with full treble and deep, well-defined bass. There are no extras, sadly, not even stills drawn from earlier Salzburg productions of the opera.

This wouldn’t make a good first Figaro on DVD, not with its catch-as-catch-can filming. But there is a great deal to enjoy in it, including a dedication to the work of Mozart and da Ponte, which has sometimes been obscured in recent decades under a thick coat of pseudo-authenticity. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Le nozze di Figaro, K 492 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Alfred Pfeifel (Tenor), Edith Mathis (Soprano), Zoltan Kélémén (Baritone),
Walter Berry (Bass Baritone), Claire Watson (Soprano), Ingvar Wixell (Baritone),
Reri Grist (Soprano), David Thaw (Tenor), Margarethe Bence (Alto),
Klaus Hirte (Baritone)
Conductor:  Karl Böhm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1966 
Venue:  Salzburger Festspiele 

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