MOZART Le nozze di Figaro (Böhm)
The 1954 visit of the Vienna State Opera to London’s Royal Festival Hall with a Mozart/da Ponte cycle on improvised sets was so praised by most critics that a reaction soon set in. Was it really that good, or really genuinely a Viennese house cast? The answer to the latter question was certainly no – it was a special touring assembly. And to the former, now we finally have some aural evidence? By no means consistently.
Böhm’s quirkily uneven tempos for this opera are pretty much the same here as in his later recordings. Whereas ‘Non più andrai’, with the superlative Erich Kunz singing off the very end of maestro’s stick, is as crisp and light as it might be today under Jacobs or Gardiner, both of the Countess’s arias and Susanna’s in the Act 4 garden are, frankly, fearful dirges full of undesired late-19th-century hanging around. Anything remotely soubrettish – eg Susanna and Cherubino sorting out the window jump or the newly united Figaro family celebrating the rediscovery of his parents – is scampered and virtually inaudible. A deal of mugging laughter in the recits suggests that the cast have little confidence in the audience understanding their text.
This set offers a time check on an antique style of performance. Nowadays we would prefer a Count who doesn’t sound like a sometime Wotan and Sachs and find himself continually cool in his dominance. And who can keep up with the beat. The ladies have more to offer even if Seefried’s ‘little girl’ voice for Susanna will not be to all tastes and Della Casa sounds more suited to the aristocracy composed by Richard Strauss. The recorded sound gets what it can out of an evidently careful private recording but is inevitably less than three-dimensional. All in all this release is a good idea on paper but disappointing in practice.