May 1, 1786.
That is the day that, for many, the greatest opera of all-time had its very first performance.
“Le Nozze di Figaro” has held the stage ever since, performed by all the great interpreters all over the world. The work has also developed a healthy discography over the ages both on audio and visual media, making it impossible not to experience the opera at its best in some form.
In celebration of this special anniversary, some of the opera’s devotees here at OperaWire have put together our personal favorite recordings of the opera.
We encourage our readers to add their own thoughts and favorite recordings and interpreters of the work in the comments below.
Georg Solti’s 1981 recording was given to me by my best friend as I moved far away for grad school in 1985. I treasure this 4-LP boxed set (quite a splurge for a college student’s budget).
It was the first digital recording of the work and the clear, plush sound holds up well. The cast was top drawer at the time, and is utterly iconic in hindsight: Te Kanawa, Popp, von Stade, Ramey, and Allen, with a supporting cast of names that are luxury casting, including a young Yvonne Kenny as Barbarina.
All come together under Solti’s lively, elegant leadership, and Christopher Raeburn’s exquisite production to capture much of what makes this the best opera yet written.
My favorite recording of “Le Nozze di Figaro” is the one by Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. A dream cast includes Luca Pisaroni, Christiane Karg, Thomas Hampson, Sonya Yoncheva, and Angela Brower. But the star-cast is definitely not the only advantage.
First of all, I appreciate the consistency and balance. Maestro felt confident about this diverse material so we can feel true passion. We can worry and laugh of course. And we can see how magic is born in those perfect pauses. And all of this is very credible and natural in the context of Mozart’s upstairs-downstairs comedy.
Luca Pisaroni has so many colors in his bass-baritone. Guess, what could be better than his voice? The one combined with Thomas Hampson’s timbre. They proved again how well they work together in “No tenors allowed” in February, but I bet, it might begin when they recorded “Le Nozze.”
Hampson himself is a great dramatic power. He creates a strong, almost tangible presence and delivers a wide emotional range.
The diversity of female voices is also impressive: generous-voiced Sonya Yoncheva, lively and bright Christiane Karg, intelligent Anne Sofie von Otter, and Angela Brower, whose Cherubino is such a lovely and enjoyable creature.
I used to listen to it while working and liked to turn it on suddenly and understand immediately where I was in the piece. I find it very calming and simply enjoyable.
One of a series of four Mozart concert opera recordings conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin for Deutsche Grammophon, this 2016 album withLuca Pisaroni, Christiane Karg, Sonya Yoncheva, Thomas Hampson, Angela Brower, Anne Sofie Von Otter, Maurizio Muraro, and Rolando Villazón showcases the fun that is “Le Nozze di Figaro.”
Nézet-Séguin leads the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in a tight, punchy, and fast-paced recording featuring the brightest stars in the opera world. The iconic “Sinfonia” zips along, clocking in at a blazing four minutes, three seconds—twenty seconds faster than the 1985 Met Opera recording, and a full minute faster than the 2007 Harnoncourt/Vienna Philharmonic tempo—a pace that sets the listener up for a wonderfully wild ride through a mad day in the further adventures of Figaro.
The singing is what one would expect from artists of such high caliber, the diction clear as a bell (Ding! Ding!), and the characterizations extremely playful for a concert performance.
There are so many iconic recordings of this opera that it can be quite challenging to make a true selection. As far as audience recordings going, Georg Solti’s recording is elegance personified, while the recent Nézet-Séguin interpretation is pure fun from start to finish.
Hermann Prey’s recording with Karl Böhm may often be on the slower side of things, but the clarity of Prey’s singing is simply incredible. He’s pure sunshine. The recording benefits, of course, from a top-rate cast that includes Gundula Janowitz, Edith Mathis, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and the unsurpassed Cherubino of Tatiana Troyanos. It might be a bit heavy at times as far as Mozart goes, but the interpreters’ way with text is beautiful throughout.
But I also want to put a spotlight on the video side of the equation where there is a rich selection for “Figaro” lovers everywhere. The Salzburg version starring Anna Netrebko and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo might not be the most satisfactorily sung version of the opera, but it is hard to find a more immersive vision and such strong acting in service of that interpretation. There is also a more traditional, but equally poignant version with Diana Damrau and D’Arcangelo.
But for my money, the Royal Opera’s David McVicar production with Erwin Schrott, Miah Persson, Gerald Finley, and Dorothea Röschmann captures the spirit of the work in ways that few others manage. It’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s romantic, it’s dark, and it’s final moments are breathtaking.