The Marriage of Figaro and its great performers


By Diego Garcia Perez


By Diego Garcia Perez.

The Marriage of Figaro premiered on 1 May 1786 at the Imperial Court Theater in Vienna, achieving relative success. Its premiere in Prague in February 1787 if it was extraordinarily successful. Ya, in 1789, its revival took place in Vienna. It premiered in Paris and London, respectively in 1807 Y 1815. For almost the entire 19th century, this opera as well as others by Mozart practically fell into oblivion. It is from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th., when it returns to be represented with some assiduity, first in the New York Metropolitan, where it had been released in January 1894, with a cast that included American soprano Enma Eames (The Countess of Almaviva), along with the famous baritones: the Italian Mario Ancona and the Polish Edouard de Rezke, respectively interpreting Figaro and the Count of Almaviva. During the next fifteen years it was performed quite frequently in the New York theater., almost always with the Countess of Emma Eames, whose last interpretation of this character took place in February 1909, along with other famous singers of the time: the Polish soprano Marcella Sembrich (Susanna), also Polish bass Adamo Didur (Figaro), the great Italian baritone Antonio Scotti (Count) and the famous American soprano Geraldine Farrar (Cherub), with the orchestral direction of Gustav Mahler (this great composer was an accomplished Mozartian interpreter). Some fragments of this opera can be heard on YouTube: el precioso duet of Acto III "Che soave zeffiretto", with the voices of Enma Eames and Marcella Sembrich, the aria from Act I “Non piu andrai” in the voice of Adamo Didur and the duet from Act III, "Cruel because so far", in the voices of Antonio Scotti (Count) and Geraldine Farrar (Susanna). These very old recordings with poor sound, they show us magnificent interpreters, especially the powerful and beautiful voices of Antonio Scotti and Adamo Didur, with a truly modern singing style.

The Marriage of Figaro at the Salzburg and Glyndebourne Festivals.

Definitely, The Marriage of Figaro received a great boost during the thirties of the last century., at the Salzburg and Glyndebourne festivals (south of london), in whose first edition, in 1934, Several performances took place, which were repeated in the following years. In the editions that took place between 1934 Y 1939, destaca sobremanera la soprano Finlandesa Aulikki Rautawaara, who combined great vocal quality with an excellent mastery of the Mozartian singing style, together with an elegant and beautiful stage presence, that make her the main interpreter of the Countess in the thirties. During editions of 1934 Y 1935, took place at Glyndebourne, the first complete recording of this opera, where next to Rautawaara, highlighted the magnificent interpretation of Figaro performed by the German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender (father of the famous mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender) and also the good interpretations of the English soprano Audrey Midmay (Susanna) and the Austrian soprano Luise Helletsgruber (Cherub), being much more discreet the interpretation of the English baritone Roy Henderson (Count). The orchestral direction was in charge of the famous German conductor Fritz Busch, with a refined performance not exempt from intensity and theatrical life, that in this recording is diminished by the absence of the recitatives so important in this opera. Some years ago, the NAXOS seal, made a reissue of this recording with sound enhancement, which can be heard on YouTube. The Salzburg Festival, created in 1921, start programming this opera, with great assiduity, from 1925, with magnificent performers like the Countess played by the famous Ukrainian-Austrian soprano Viorica Ursuleac; although with the problem of being sung in German. It is in the edition of 1937, when it begins to be performed in Italian including the recitatives, there is a live shot (Available on YouTube), donde Aulikki Rautawaara, plays the Countess again, together with the extraordinary Figaro of the Italian bass Ezio Pinza, and another famous interpreter, el bajo italiano Mariano Stabile (Count), who were joined by the also famous Hungarian soprano Esther Rethy (Susanna) and another great performer with magnificent vocals, Czech soprano Jarmila Novotna (Cherub). The orchestral direction was in charge of the great Bruno Walter, the head of the Vienna Philharmonic, always attentive to underline the many and varied nuances of this score. The Metropolitan took up this opera in the forties, programming it quite regularly, counting on the magnificent countess of the American soprano Eleanor Steber, exquisite singer with a wide voice and sumptuous color, with intense and sensual phrasing, along with a great interpretative capacity, which is converted from 1942 and until the mid-1950s in the official Countess of the New York theater. Y, in the forties, next to Steber, in many functions, an extraordinary group of singers: Ezio Pinza (Figaro), Australian baritone John Brownlee (Count), elegant and stately performer, together with the Brazilian soprano Bidù Sayao (Susanna), who gives a lot of grace and mischief to his character and Jarmila Novotna (Cherub). Although there are different live shots with this set of performers, It is worth highlighting the one carried out in 1944 (You can listen to it in full on YouTube), with orchestral direction by Bruno Walter.

Two referential countesses: Lisa Della Casa and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

Parallel to the New York performances of Eleonor Steber, at the Salzburg Festival 1947, the great German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf plays the role of Susanna and the following year that of the Countess, directed by Herbert von Karajan (your great guarantor). This exquisite performer, magnificent vocals and great technique, along with an absolute mastery of the Mozartian style of singing, is going to be the official Countess in the editions of the Salzburg Festival of the fifties, along with great performers like the soprano Irmgard Seefried (Susanna), and next to them, in the years 1956, 1957 Y 1958, the great Berlin baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a Count of reference for his great vocal quality together with a high degree of expressiveness with an intense and contrasted phrasing. Also in those editions, greatly highlighted the famous German mezzo Christa Ludwid, with an extraordinary creation by Cherubino.

The orchestral direction was in charge of the Austrian maestro Karl Böhm, accomplished mozartian interpreter. The live shot made in 1957, can be heard, complete on YouTube (with good sound). Elisabetth Schwarzkopf participated in two studio recordings for the EMI label, the first in 1950 (Available on YouTube) with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, where the great Salzburg master, offers suggestive and refined orchestral timbres showing at all times as a consummate stylist, getting the singers an optimal performance, both of the stylized and perfect Countess of Schwarzkopf, like some sensational Irmgard Seefried (Susanna) y Sena Jurinac (Cherub), alongside the remarkable creations of George London (Count) y Erich Kunz (Figaro). The problem with this recording is that it does not have the recitatives. Ten years later, in 1960, Schwarzkopf made a second recording, already in stereo, with the magnificent direction of the great Italian master Carlo María Giulini, who achieves a vigorous and highly theatrical version, getting splendid performances from the singers, where exquisiteness shines again, nuance and refinement of the great German soprano, along with the expressive and humorous interpretation of the great Italian baritone Giuseppe Taddei (Figaro), next to the very expressive and vigorous count of the Austrian baritone Eberhard Wächter (with certain language problems), junto a la sugerente y sensual Susanna from the North American soprano Anna Moffo y el Cherubino from the magnificent Italian mezzo Fiorenza Cossotto.

The other referential Countess was the great Swiss soprano Lisa Della Casa, a luminous voice, of precious timbre and an intense and contrasted phrasing; he did not have the great technique of Schwarzkopf, but her interpretations were of greater warmth and humanity than those offered by the German soprano. Della Casa was the one who played the Countess the most times, nails on 150 representations in twenty years. His debut in that character occurred at the Zurich Opera, in 1950, and the following year he will perform it at Glyndebourne. Ya, in 1953, made his debut at the Metropolitan, precisely with the role of the Countess, alternating until 1956, with performances by Eleanor Steber and also with the great Victoria de Los Angeles, exquisite Countess of precious vocality, as can be seen in the recording taken in that theater, in 1952, directed by Fritz Reiner, where he shared a cast with the magnificent Figaro of the Italian bass-baritone Cesare Siepi, true successor of Ezio Pinza, together with the famous Italian baritone Giuseppe Valdengo as the Count. Lisa Della Casa, in 1955, participated in the historic recording of The Marriage of Figaro (full version including all recitatives) for Decca, considered as a reference of this opera, with the extraordinary direction of Erich Kleiber, the head of the Vienna Philharmonic, who manages to offer an impeccable reading from the stylistic point of view, with a perfect fusion of orchestra and singers. The Swiss soprano offers an anthological performance, with a very elegant edge line. Highlight in this recording the extraordinary performance of Figaro by Cesare Siepi, together with the famous Austrian soprano Hilde Güden, who performs a magnificent interpretation of Sussanna; Y, as well, highlight the great performance of the Belgian soprano Susanna Danco as Cherubino.

More discreet the interpretation of the German baritone Alfred Poell as The Count. This superb recording can be heard in its entirety on YouTube.. From 1956, Della Casa will be the official Countess at the Metropolitan, with some last performances in 1967, year in which the great soprano Pilar Lorengar takes over, performing numerous functions until 1972. Lorengar had debuted the role of the Countess, at the Glyndebourne Festival 1958. He had also performed it at the Teatro alla Scala, in 1964 and in Covent Garden, in 1966. So, he had an excellent mastery of the character, offering her lyrical and precious voice, to compose a Countess of great vocal and dramatic height. This can be seen in a live shot made at the Metropolitan, in 1967, where he shared cast with the great Cesare Siepi (Figaro), junto to Mirella Freni (reference Susanna), who shows his magnificent vocality, and a performance full of expressiveness, enhancing femininity, mischief and cunning of the character; Y, to Teresa Berganza, in an extraordinary interpretation of Cherubino. This recording can be heard on YouTube.

The interpretations of new generations of singers

When Lisa Della Casa, in 1971, last played the Countess at the Vienna State Opera, a very young singer from New Zealand, called Kiri Te Kanawa, debuted at London's Covent Garden, the role of the countess, directed by Colin Davis, and that he will keep in his repertoire until the end of the 20th century, with brilliant character creation. Lyrical voice of great timbre beauty to which she joined her dazzling stage presence (tall and very pretty woman). Ya, in the age of video recordings, we can hear it in a take made at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1973, with very acceptable images for the time, with the magnificent orchestral direction of John Pritchard (great Mozartian interpreter closely linked to this festival), conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Junto a Kiri Te Kanawa, the other great attraction of this recording is the presence in the role of Cherubino, of the then very young North American mezzo Frederica von Stade, of excellent and exquisite vocality, along with a beautiful stage presence, who became the great interpreter of this character for twenty years. Also heard on this recording is the excellent Romanian soprano Ileana Cotrubas in the role of Susanna. This video recording is available on YouTube. It is worth noting another recording marketed on DVD, por GERMAN GRAMOPHONE, from 1976, where the famous Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production can be seen filmed, where next to the splendid countess of Kiri Te Kanawa, singers from previous generations can be heard: the magnificent Figaro of the German baritone Hermann Prey, who endows the character with great liveliness and sympathy. Y, el gran Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in his referential creation of the Count.

They are joined by Susanna by Mirella Freni, who returns to show his great creation of this character, together with the very notable Cherubino of the North American soprano María Ewin, with Karl Böhm conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. This footage is available on YouTube. An excellent DECCA recording can be heard in audio, from 1982, directed with his usual energy and dramatic sense by the great Georg Solti, conducting the London Philharmonic, as well, with Kiri Te Kanawa, next to a splendid Lucia Popp (Susanna), Again Frederica von Stade (Cherub), and the excellent North American bass-baritone Figaro Samuel Ramey, alongside Thomas Allen (Count), role that this great English baritone, will play very often, highlighting also his intervention in a production, del Covent Garden, in 1989, this time with another magnificent Countess, the one interpreted by the North American soprano Carol Vaness, brilliant vocals and great stage performance, his duets with Thomas Allen are impressively theatrical. They can be seen on YouTube, fragments of that production: the magnificent solo interventions of Carol Vaness, the entire grand finale of Act II, as well as the concluding scene of the opera. Ya, in the nineties, It is worth mentioning the dazzling interpretations that the great American soprano Renée Fleming made of the Countess. wide lyrical voice, of great timbre beauty, considerable, excellent phrasing and a very remarkable theatricality, with absolute mastery of all registers and agilities, with a magnificent technique that he learned from his teacher Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Two video recordings are available and can be viewed on YouTube, and that prove the extreme quality of their Countess: the first in Glyndebourne, in 1994, conducted with the Dutch grandmaster Bernard Haitink. Y, especially, the one he performed at the Metropolitan, in 1998, with musical direction by James Levine, alongside an excellent cast that included the great creation of Figaro by Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, magnificent of vocality and with an imposing theatrical performance. The half Cecilia Bartoli as Susanna, with dazzling vocals, since he performs two alternative arias that Mozart composed in the Vienna revival, in 1789, para the soprano Adriana Ferrarese del Bene: in Act II “Un moto de gioia” which replaced “Venite, you knelt down!" Y, in Act IV, instead of “Deh, he comes, don't delay ”, "At the desire of those who adore you", this last, very long and very complex coloratura.

The cast was completed with the notable performances of the American baritone Dwayne Croft (Count) and Susanne Mentzer (Cherub).
Ya, in the elapsed years of the 21st century, It is worth mentioning the great creation of the Countess made by the German soprano Dorothea Roschmann, of magnificent vocals together with a great theatrical performance, which can be seen in the video recording made at the Salzburg Festival of 2006, alongside the excellent Susanna by Anna Netrebko, the very remarkable Figaro played by the Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D'Arcangelo , together with the Danish baritone Bo Skovhus (Count) and the German soprano Christine Schafer, in a great creation of Cherubino. The direction was in charge of the Austrian teacher Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who shows his great mastery of this score.

In very recent times, the young Italian soprano Federica Lombardi has emerged with great force., who is offering great interpretations of the Countess, with a beautiful wide lyrical voice, of considerable volume and magnificent technique, along with an excellent theatrical performance. This year 2022, has achieved great triumphs in Covent Garden and this same month of April, at the Metropolitan. fragments can be seen (available on YouTube) of his performance at the Munich Opera, in 2017, that show his very high vocal and interpretative quality.