Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
Giuseppe Valdengo, baritone (Count Almaviva), Victoria de los Angeles,
soprano (Countess Almaviva), Nadine Conner, soprano (Susanna), Cesare
Siepi, bass (Figaro), Mildred Miller, mezzo-soprano (Cherubino), Jean
mezzo-soprano, (Marcellina), Salvatore Baccaloni, bass (Dr. Bartolo).
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Fritz Reiner,
Bongiovanni GB 1181/82-2 (2 CDs). (F) (ADD) TT: 2:37:51
This Bongiovanni release documents the 1 March 1952 Saturday Metropolitan
Opera broadcast of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. In the opening
week of the 1951 season, the Met presented Nozze, featuring a cast that,
two exceptions, duplicates that of the broadcast. In the later performance
Giuseppe Valdengo replaces John Brownlee as the Count Almaviva, and Lawrence
Davidson sings Antonio, in place of Lorenzo Alvary.
This is in many ways a stunning performance, one that quickly moves near
the top of my list, along with the Erich Kleiber London and Carlo Maria
Giulini EMI recordings. As in the case of those two studio issues, the
Met performance has at the helm a great maestro who was equally at home
in the concert hall and opera house. Fritz Reiner here leads a performance
that is a marvel of conception and execution. It is clear from the opening
bars of the Overture that this Nozze will be a performance of
incredible vigor. Indeed, this is one of the most vivacious and energetic
of the opera I’ve ever heard.
But Reiner also allows plenty of room for repose and delicacy. His accompaniments
for the Countess’s “Porgi amor,” Cherubino’s “Voi
che sapete,” and Susanna’s “Deh vieni” for example,
all breathe and sing with the vocalists. Reiner paces the great Act II
finale masterfully, allowing it to reach a stunning conclusion. But just
about every measure of this performance is testimony to a master at the
height of his powers. And because Fritz Reiner never made a studio recording
of Le nozze di Figaro (or any Mozart opera, for that matter), this release
is of considerable documentary value.
Likewise this broadcast preserves the work of several outstanding singers
in roles they never recorded commercially. Victoria de los Angeles is,
probably to the surprise of no one, a radiant Countess Almaviva. In gorgeous
voice, she sings with her customary warmth, musicianship,
and technical expertise. Her interpretation is also uncommonly sympathetic.
De los Angeles manages to portray both the aristocratic and very human
sides of Rosina’s character. Her brief reconciliation with the
Count at the opera’s conclusion—again, masterfully paced
one of the most affecting I’ve heard.
Baritone Giuseppe Valdengo is best remembered for his recordings of Verdi
operas with Arturo Toscanini—Aida, Otello, and Falstaff. To my ears,
Valdengo’s attractive voice, superb Italian diction, and winning
powers of characterization serve him very well in all of those collaborations.
But it must also be acknowledged that Valdengo’s voice lacked the
kind of heft one normally expects in those Verdi baritone roles.
A voice that might be just a shade small for Amonasro, Iago, or Falstaff
is probably just right for Mozart’s Count Almaviva. Valdengo, also
in superb voice, is indeed a force to be reckoned with. Throughout he
sings with elegance, yet all the while managing to portray
the Count’s imperious, even menacing character. He and Reiner join
forces for a powerhouse rendition of the Count’s aria, “Vedro,
sospiro,” one of the highlights of a performance filled with great
In the first Nozze performance of the 1951 season mezzo-soprano
Mildred Miller made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino. In an
Ms. Miller told me about some early problems following Reiner’s
minimalist beat, which she communicated to the conductor. In somewhat
fashion, Reiner was very understanding, and ultimately, he and Miller
enjoyed a most rewarding collaboration. That is certainly reflected in
And Mildred Miller’s lovely, youthful voice, elegance and occasionally
impetuous manner produce a first-rate Cherubino.
Cesare Siepi’s Figaro is, of course, a well-known quantity, preserved
on the great Erich Kleiber London studio recording. There are occasional
flaws by Siepi in this broadcast, such as a brief memory lapse in “Non
più andrai,” a slight vocal crack during the second-act
reprise of “Se vuol ballare,” and a few moments of suspect
pitch. But these are slight imperfections in what is, overall, an excellent
performance. Siepi’s gorgeous dark bass, and virile characterization
make him both a convincing romantic figure and a worthy foil to Count
Almaviva. Their Act II confrontation is memorabl, indeed. And as with
so many of the members of this cast, it is a great pleasure to hear Siepi
relish Lorenzo da Ponte’s Italian text.
Nadine Conner is a lovely, vivacious Susanna who generally sings and
acts with great charm. As with many lyric sopranos, Conner has some difficulty
with the lower portion of her final-act aria. But overall, she and Siepi
make a convincing pair of lovers.
The smaller roles are cast with great strength. Salvatore Baccaloni,
with his plump basso and comic expertise, has a grand time as Dr. Bartolo.
under Reiner’s watchful eye, Baccaloni, who loved to overplay to
the gallery, is on good musical behavior. Jean Madeira is an uncommonly
strong-voiced Marcellina. The great character tenor, Alessio de Paolis,
is an unforgettable Don Basilio. What a luxury it is to have the young
Roberto Peters sing Barbarina’s touching last-act aria!
The broadcast sound, with the exception of a short portion of the Count’s
Act I entrance, is excellent—full-bodied, well-balanced, and with
minimal distortion. A piano is used for the recitatives. Marcellina and
Basilio’s last-act arias are cut, a real loss given the presence
of such artists as Madeira and de Paolis. In addition, the recitative
sono” and the ensuing duet for the Countess and Susanna is missing.
Given that the second disc runs over 79 minutes, I wonder if this was
done to accommodate the performance on two discs. The booklet contains
only cast information, an essay by Piero Mioli that switches role credits
for Madeira and Miller. Any minor shortcomings pale in the face
of a performance that, for me, captures the musical and dramatic essence
of this great opera about
as well as any recording.
K.M. (December 2003)