LP0398. LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Live Performance, 7 Dec., 1940, w. Ettore Panizza Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Elisabeth Rethberg, Ezio Pinza, Licia Albanese, Jarmila Novotná, Salvatore Baccaloni, Irra Petina, John Brownlee, Alessio De Paolis, etc. 3-Metropolitan Opera Guild 153260, Boxed Set w.Libretto & Photos. Produced by RCA in 1979.
“In 1974 the Metropolitan Opera Guild issued the 7 December 1940 broadcast of Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO as a fund-raiser. This was the first Met broadcast recording to appear in an official, authorized release. The performance was chosen because it had been the first Metropolitan Opera broadcast sponsored by Texaco. The three-LP set was packaged in a conventional LP box with a single booklet containing the cast listing (a reproduction of the original program), photographs and biographical information on the performers, plus a plot synopsis and libretto with translation. Each LP box was affixed with a round gold seal marked "Limited Edition" stamped with an individual serial number. The catalog number chosen for this release was inauspicious, and appeared only on the individual records. As noted in the discography, there were two small gaps in the source recording of this performance.
Sales of the recording were sufficiently successful that the Met decided to establish the Metropolitan Opera Historic Broadcast Recordings as a series, with the goal of issuing one performance per year."
- Gary A.Galo, ARSC Journal, Volume 40, #2, Fall, 2009
“This complete opera performance presents the Metropolitan debut of Salvatore Baccaloni, and is notable in historical interest terms for that alone. The reliable Ettore Panizza is at the helm for this performance; he was perhaps better known for his central Romantic repertoire but fields his forces with great élan. Rhythms are taut, with the orchestra well drilled, something in evidence from the outset in the wonderfully sprightly Overture, where louder dynamics are well caught….Panizza’s strength is in his structural awareness, and the way he finds huge reserves of energy for the end of acts (the second in particular); in doing so, he propels the drama along, pulling the listener with him. He also times the crescendo of the march in act II to perfection.
Albanese in Mozart is another draw, as is Novotná as Cherubino. Novotná ’s ‘Non so più’ is lithe and agile, providing a real highlight of the set; her ‘Voi che sapete’ is another one.
The voices of Pinza and Albanese work supremely well together in the opening duet of act I; Pinza’s ‘Se voul ballare’ is a superb example of just how well he can characterize. Matching him in that aspect is the wonderful Baccaloni, whose ‘La vendetta’ oozes power, coupled with miraculous diction. Albanese shines later in preternaturally clean slurs in ‘Canzonetta sull’aria’, and a sense of Mozartian line that is hard to equal; her ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ is another miracle, this time of breath control, not only in terms of that line but in coping with Panizza’s slow tempo. The Count for the both performances is John Brownlee, solid and confident. But maybe it is Albanese who trumps them all, her ‘Venite, inginocchiatevi’ a miracle of lightness. Moreover, she seems to capture the very essence of the opera itself; ‘Aprite, presto aprite’ is another fine example.
Regular readers will know of my personal enthusiasm for Elisabeth Rethberg, so it is a shame to report that she is not in top form here (something openly admitted in Immortal Performance’s documentation). Her ‘Porgi amor’ does actually find her magical despite a less than perfectly controlled end. Of the smaller roles, Louis D’Angelo is a particularly fine Don Antonio, while Marita Farell’s ‘Pin Aria’ is a joy, the richness of Farell’s voice maintained in her upper register.
- Colin Clarke, FANFARE, Nov. / Dec., 2017
“On February 20, 1940, the Metropolitan Opera revived LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. It was the first Met performance of the Mozart-da Ponte masterwork since the 1917-18 season. Two broadcast performances followed in relatively short order, on March 9 and December 7, 1940. The latter was the very first sponsored by Texaco, the beginning of a relationship that would last more than six decades. In 1974, the Met offered an official LP release of the December 7, 1940 broadcast. It seems the Met was especially protective of its LP broadcast reissues, used for fundraising purposes.
Over time, the December 7, 1940 broadcast has acquired legendary status, and I think for good reason.... exponentially better, with more than sufficient detail, warmth, and dynamic range to enjoy the many stellar qualities of this performance. All of the principals in this broadcast bring many admirable qualities to their interpretations but for me, three stand out. First is Ezio Pinza in the role of Figaro. Pinza acknowledged that among all his roles, Figaro was the one ‘with whom I found perfect self-identification’. Pinza added: ‘Myself an itinerant carpenter’s son, I could not but rejoice in the superiority of the barber-valet and his friends over an arrogant aristocrat’. Pinza’s affection for the role is evident throughout. As in the 1937 Salzburg DON GIOVANNI, Pinza lavishes his glorious basso cantante, sublime Italian diction, and imaginative phrasing upon the role. The role of Figaro requires its interpreter to be able to make lightning-quick and chameleon-like changes of mood and expression. Pinza rises to each and every such occasion. Pinza is superb in ensemble, a true collaborator, and makes all of his solo moments highlights of the performance. It is true that Pinza seems unwilling or unable to negotiate the Fs in ‘Se vuol ballare’ at full voice, but artist that he is, the great Italian bass turns that hurdle to subtle and convincing dramatic effect.
Also superb is soprano Jarmila Novotná in the trouser role of Cherubino, the young page. Novotná sings with great beauty and eloquence, all the while fetchingly depicting Cherubino’s adolescent passion, energy, and angst. Novotná was a strikingly beautiful woman with a commanding stage presence. Her Cherubino must have been something to see. As it is, we have this wonderful audio document of a treasured artist. Conductor Ettore Panizza too belongs in this august company. Better known for his superb Met performances of the Italian Romantic repertoire, Panizza demonstrates he is a compelling and sympathetic interpreter of Mozart as well. The music proceeds with Panizza’s characteristic precision and brisk tempos. That said, Panizza is more than willing to allow for a broader approach and flexibility of phrasing when the musical and dramatic situation so dictates. Perhaps Panizza’s greatest achievements are in the ensembles that conclude the opera’s final three acts. Panizza’s Met broadcasts of such operas as AIDA, OTELLO, and LA GIOCONDA document a conductor who is a master of pacing such ensembles, building the tension to a breaking point, released only in the final measures. That is the case in this NOZZE as well, especially in the great ensemble that concludes act II.
The other singers, while more problematic than their colleagues mentioned above, offer much to admire as well. Licia Albanese brings her customary artistry, dramatic intensity, and, like Pinza, mastery of the art of Italian declamation to the role of Susanna. Albanese treats all of the music, both recitatives and set numbers, with the utmost care, respect, and imagination. Albanese’s Susanna is an intelligent, passionate, and steadfast young woman, clearly a force to be reckoned with. Her voice strikes me as lacking the ideal silver purity for this lyric soprano role....That said, Albanese is absolutely magical in Susanna’s last-act solo, ‘Deh, vieni, non tardar’. A great interpreter of Susanna will seize that opportunity to create a moment of unalloyed magic, where time seems to stand still. And that is precisely what Licia Albanese does.
In the December 7, 1940 broadcast, Elisabeth Rethberg is not in her finest, most secure voice..... Nevertheless, Rethberg’s nobility, musicianship, and affinity for the Mozart style are never in doubt. John Brownlee offers an attractive baritone, and solid, reliable vocalism, as the Count Almaviva. He is also quite convincing in portraying the Count’s haughty nature, and propensity for anger. And to be sure, that is a great deal of what the Count Almaviva is all about. Still, there is much more variety and subtlety to be found in this role, and apart from a touching plea for forgiveness by the Countess in the Opera’s final scene, Brownlee falls short in that regard. The subsidiary roles are well performed by Met stalwarts. The beloved Italian basso buffo Salvatore Baccaloni made his Met house and broadcast debut on this occasion. He is in fine, plummy voice as Dr. Bartolo, and a few mannerisms apart, eschews the kinds of broad-brushed comic touches that would become trademarks of his many Met performances.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, Nov. / Dec., 2017