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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: Marriage of Figaro (The) (Glyndebourne) (1934-1935)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze di Figaro
It is extraordinary to recall that as late as 1934 no complete opera by Mozart had been recorded commercially for the gramophone; particularly extraordinary, when so many Italian and French operas had been available on bulky sets of 78s for years, often in more than one version. It is thanks to the vision of two brilliant men that this 1934/5 recording of Le nozze di Figaro was made at all; they were John Christie and Fred Gaisberg.
Christie had been running various business projects, and the family estate in Sussex, for fifteen years before fulfilling his ambition to own a real opera house. He also had the good sense to marry a beautiful operatic soprano, Audrey Mildmay, seventeen years his junior, in 1931, adding further impetus to his plans; so, as English country gentlemen were able to do in those days, he built a theatre on the site of his kitchen garden and thus took the first step to founding Glyndebourne Festival Opera. By the greatest good fortune he was able to secure the services of the theatre and opera producer Carl Ebert and the conductor Fritz Busch, both of whom had already decided to leave Germany and work elsewhere in Europe and the Americas. Together they made a formidable team. Once the repertory for Glyndebournes first season was decided six performances each of Figaro and Così fan tutte discussions with Fred Gaisberg, International Artistes Manager of The Gramophone Company, began on the subject of recording a complete opera.
Gaisberg was the first great impresario in the world of sound recording and had worked with a host of the worlds finest musicians during his career. Now, towards its close, he was able to realise his hopes of preserving a complete Mozart opera and the as-yet-untried Glyndebourne production of Figaro was his choice. It was an act of great faith but the names of the cast and conductor alone must have been sufficient to convince him that the venture would be successful.
Christie and Gaisberg agreed that only excerpts of Figaro would be recorded during this first season and, if worthwhile, the project could be continued at a later date. A choice of ensemble numbers was made and on 6th June 1934, just a few days after the opening night, the cast was ready on Glyndebournes stage, Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra (in reality the London Symphony Orchestra) was in the pit, all awaiting the arrival of HMVs mobile recording unit. The days work resulted in thirteen usable sides and the six resulting 78s were issued as Volume I of the Mozart Opera Society series. It did not take Gaisberg and his assistant David Bicknell long to realise that early completion was essential.
The cast of Glyndebournes 1935 Figaro was virtually identical to that of the previous year. Just one of the originals, Norman Allin, was absent and his replacement was considered unsuitable to record the Vendetta aria, so twenty-year old Italo Tajo, a chorister with a rich bass voice, was selected instead. A decision was also made to excise the recitativo secco from the recording (only eleven bars, with piano accompaniment, were actually included, between the Act 3 duet Sullaria and the ensuing chorus; this side was made in 1934 but was not part of the original issue of concerted excerpts). Three arias from Act 4 were also omitted, as was the Act 1 chorus Giovani lieti. Basilios In quegli anni, to be sung by Heddle Nash, was meant to be included but, alas, time ran out before it could be committed to wax. The cuts are not of great significance, for what we have here is a major milestone in the history of recorded opera, realised by Christie, Gaisberg and their colleagues, who together created the perfection of ensemble that Figaro always demands.
All the records made of Figaro have
been heard and are completely successful. They
are the finest set of concerted records from any
opera I have yet heard and they are a grand
tribute to Glyndebourne and yourself
Fred Gaisberg to Fritz Busch, 14th June 1934
Le nozze di Figaro was first performed on 1st May 1786 at the Burgtheater, Vienna
Audrey Mildmay was born in Sussex in 1900, but raised in Canada. From 1924 she studied in England, and following an American tour of The Beggars Opera joined the Carl Rosa Company as a light lyric soprano. After marrying John Christie she studied in Vienna and appeared in three pre-war Glyndebourne productions, Figaro, Don Giovanni and Don Pasquale. Mildmay, a charming, vivacious hostess to musicians visiting Glyndebourne, retained an active interest in the Festival until her death in 1953.
Willi Domgraf-Fassbänder was born in Aachen in 1897 and studied in Berlin and Milan. Following his début as the Count in Figaro in 1927, he sang extensively throughout Germany, notably at the Berlin Staatsoper, where he appeared for sixteen seasons. Domgraf-Fassbänder took part in three Glyndebourne Festivals and after the war appeared successfully in Munich, Vienna and Nuremberg, where he was appointed Director of the Opera. The father of the celebrated mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbänder, he died in Nuremberg in 1978.
Aulikki Rautavaara was born in Vaasa in 1906 into a family of Finnish singers. She trained in Berlin and Helsinki, where she sang from 1932, and two years later appeared in the first of her five Glyndebourne seasons, her rôles being Pamina and the Countess Almaviva. Rautavaara achieved great success in Germany and Austria, singing memorably at the 1937 Salzburg Festival, and in Scandinavia, and she was a devotee of traditional Finnish song. She died in Helsinki in 1990.
Roy Henderson, born in Edinburgh in 1899, trained at the Royal Academy of Music, where he later became a respected teacher. His début in 1925 was followed by Covent Garden appearances in several Wagner operas. For Glyndebourne, Henderson sang the Count, Papageno, Masetto, Guglielmo and Peachum in The Beggars Opera. Much admired in oratorio, notably Elijah and the St Matthew Passion, he was also a fine interpreter of English music and was a successful choral conductor. Henderson died in 2000.
Luise Helletsgruber was Glyndebournes first Cherubino, Dorabella and Elvira. She was born in 1898 in Vienna, where she also trained and, after her successful début at the Staatsoper, remained with the company for twenty years. She was a fine lyric soprano, her repertory including roles by Mozart, Gounod, Bizet, Wagner and Puccini. During the 1930s, Helletsgrüber participated in several Salzburg Festivals, sang in the première of Strausss Arabella in Dresden and later appeared in Berlin. She died in 1967.
Fritz Busch was born in Siegen, in Germany, in 1890, and after successive appointments in Riga, Aachen and Stuttgart became music director of Dresden Staatsoper. He continued his career in Britain, the United States, at Bayreuth, Salzburg and Berlin; after six seasons as Glyndebournes music director, he worked during the war in Argentina and then in New York, returning to conduct in Europe in 1949. He resumed his former post at Glyndebourne in 1950, but died suddenly in London in 1951.
 The opera begins with a sparkling Overture.  The curtain rises on a half-furnished room in the castle of Count Almaviva. Figaro, the Counts personal servant, is measuring the room for their bed, while the girl he is to marry, Susanna, the Countesss maid, is looking in the mirror, adjusting her bonnet. Both are busy with their own activities. Susanna asks Figaro to look at her new bonnet, which he now admires.  The room allocated to them is conveniently placed, next to the Counts and the Countesss apartments, so that Susanna can answer the bell when the Countess rings, and Figaro the Count. It is also dangerously convenient for the Count and Susanna, should the Count so desire, since he seems to regret his abnegation of the droit de seigneur.  Figaro, alone, now realises the Counts intentions and resolves to turn the tables on him.
 [Dr Bartolo, former guardian of the Countess, and Marcellina, once his housekeeper and mistress and now in the service of the Count, enter. Marcellina is seeking advice on money that she is owed by Figaro, who, in default, must marry her, although she is considerably older than he is.] Bartolo, outwitted by Figaro, who had cheated him out of his ward and her money, seeks revenge. If Susanna rejects the Count as a lover, then surely he will not give her the dowry he has promised on her coming marriage and Figaro will then have to marry Marcellina.  Bartolo leaves, to fulfil his ambition of revenge, while Marcellina is joined by her rival, Susanna. Marcellina pretends not to see her, and comments aloud on her prospects of marriage, each pretending politeness to the other, as they meet, in a duet in which each eventually offers the other more pointed insults, before Marcellina storms out.
 Susanna is now joined by the young nobleman nick-named Cherubino, little cherub, a page in the Counts entourage. He is in love with the Countess, his godmother, and with any woman he can find, already having incurred the Counts displeasure. He explains his amorous feelings to Susanna. [The Count appears and Cherubino quickly hides behind the chair in the centre of the room, anxious to avoid the Counts further suspicions of his womanising. The Count now sits in the chair and assures Susanna of his love for her, as already made known to her by the music-master Don Basilio. He suggests an assignation in the garden that evening, but is interrupted by the arrival of Don Basilio. He is distracted for a moment, as he tries to hide behind the chair, allowing Cherubino time to move quickly into the chair, to be covered by a dress that Susanna had by her. Basilio is looking for the Count to warn him that Figaro is looking for him. He mentions the behaviour of Cherubino, who is paying far too much attention to the Countess, as everyone knows. At this the Count emerges from hiding, unable to restrain himself any longer.]  He orders Cherubino to be sought out. Susanna, anxious to avoid further trouble, pretends to faint, reviving to order the two men out of her room. The Count, now determined to be rid of Cherubino, describes how he had found him with Barbarina, hiding under the table, to be uncovered. Suiting the action to the word, he seizes the dress from the chair, and Cherubino is revealed. [The Count wants Figaro to know what he imagines may have been going on, but is deterred by the realisation that Cherubino has heard his own amorous protestations to Susanna and her rejection of him. Explanations are interrupted by the arrival of Figaro with a band of villagers, come to thank the Count for his rejection of the droit de seigneur, incited by Figaro, who thus aims to defeat the Counts designs on Susanna. Cherubino seeks the Counts pardon, when the villagers have gone, and the Count agrees, sending him away at once to join his own regiment as an officer, hardly the outcome that Cherubino had expected.]  Figaro, of course, has his own plans, but he makes fun of Cherubino in an aria, describing the delights of army life in the most popular of all arias from the opera.
 The second act opens in the Countesss chamber, a fine room with a window overlooking the garden, an alcove and three doors, one of which leads to a closet and another to the servants room. The Countess complains sadly of her husbands apparent neglect. [She is joined by Susanna, who has already told her of the Counts proposition. Figaro enters, assuring the Countess that all will be well. His plan has been to let the Count know, through Basilio, that his wife has an assignation that evening in the garden, and to arrange an assignation for the Count with Susanna, replaced for the occasion by Cherubino in disguise.]  Cherubino appears, with a song he has written for the Countess, and is persuaded, with much embarrassment, to sing it, an account of his feelings. The Countess congratulates him and Susanna now sets to dressing him in female disguise.  She rehearses him in his new rôle, telling him to kneel, to turn round and take some steps. [The two women are delighted at the result, but the Countess tells him to roll up his sleeve, revealing a ribbon he has kept of the Countesss and a cut which he pretends to have bandaged with the ribbon, in fact ingredients of a love-charm. The Countess takes the ribbon. She sends Susanna for a new dress, but is moved by Cherubinos plight. At this moment the Count is heard approaching, jealous to learn of his wifes supposed infidelity and suspicious to find her door locked. Cherubino, now half-dressed, takes refuge in the closet, which she locks as the Count enters, seeking an explanation from his wife. His suspicion is further aroused when Cherubino bumps into something in the closet. The Countess, who has already told her husband that she has sent Susanna for another dress, now tells him that the noise from the locked closet must be Susanna, who now slips back into the room, hiding herself in the alcove.]  The Count orders Susanna to come out, the Countess tells her not to; he voices his suspicions of a lover, she her predicament and Susanna her resolution to help. [The Count now determines to have the door opened by force. He locks Susannas door and takes the Countess with him in his search for help.]  Their absence allows Susanna to emerge from the alcove and tell Cherubino to make his escape, which he does by bravely leaping out of the window into the garden below. [The Count and Countess return and she tells him that it is Cherubino who is locked in the closet, although only an innocent charade had been planned.]  The Count is furious and orders the boy to come out, but is met, when the door is unlocked, by Susanna.  He is now forced to seek his wifes forgiveness for his accusations and anger. Figaro appears, prepared for his wedding,  but the Count now suspects his part in the note he had received telling him of the Countesss planned infidelity. Figaro denies any complicity, although the Countess and Susanna suggest other excuses. At this moment Antonio, the gardener, appears, complaining that a man has jumped from the balcony onto his flowers. Thinking quickly, Figaro claims that it was he and, when Antonio produces a paper that the apparent fugitive had dropped, in fact Cherubinos commission, is able to point out that the document needed to be completed with the Counts seal.  At this juncture Marcellina bursts in, accompanied by Dr Bartolo and Don Basilio and demanding justice from the Count since she has a written promise of marriage from Figaro. The Count agrees to give the matter his consideration.
 The third act opens in a state room prepared for the wedding. [The Count, alone, puzzles over the anonymous note he has received and the events of the previous scene. Unheard by the Count, the Countess and Susanna have entered and the Countess persuades Susanna to arrange an assignation with the Count, for which the two of them can exchange dresses, so that he will in fact meet his own wife. Susanna approaches the Count and asks him for smelling-salts for his wife. The Count tells her she will need them herself, when Figaro marries Marcellina, something that can be avoided, if she does as she is asked.] He urges his desire for her. Susanna pretends to agree. [As she leaves she meets Figaro and tells him the case is already won, without a lawyer.]  The Count overhears and now again suspects a plot against him. He can easily marry Figaro off, if not to Marcellina, then to Antonios daughter, Barbarina. He is unwilling to see a servant happy, while he is in torment. [Don Curzio appears, with Marcellina, Dr Bartolo and Figaro, announcing the case settled: Figaro must either pay up or marry Marcellina. Now Figaro appeals to the Count, but the others are delighted at the decision. Nevertheless he declares the impossibility of marriage without the consent of his noble parents: he had been stolen as a baby and perhaps in due course may find his parents again.]  Marcellina, however, recognises in Figaro her son, of whom Dr Bartolo was the father. [Susanna enters, ready with money to pay Figaros debt. Seeing him with Marcellina, she imagines them already married, but soon all is explained. Marcellina and Dr Bartolo will marry, while Figaro is free to marry Susanna. As they leave, Barbarina rushes in with Cherubino, whom she promises to disguise as a girl.]  As they leave, the Countess returns, eager to know how Susanna has fared with the Count. She goes on to lament her husbands inconstancy and the days of love that are now gone. [As she goes out, the Count comes in, with Antonio, who explains to his master that Cherubino is still at the castle and is in Antonios house, disguising himself as a girl. They leave and the Countess and Susanna return, the former telling her maid to take down a note that she will dictate, arranging a meeting with the Count.]  The note is duly written, to be read back again to her mistress by Susanna. The missive is sealed by a pin that the Count is asked to return.  The girls of the estate now come to honour the Countess, led by Barbarina and including, in their midst, the disguised Cherubino. [The Count, forewarned by Antonio, who has given him the hat Cherubino had dropped, recognises his page at once. His anger is only deflected by Barbarina, who asks for the boy as her husband.]  Figaro comes in, ready for the festivities, but awakening the Counts suspicion, since any lameness he had once claimed after his alleged leap from the window seems to have vanished. During the wedding dance the Count pricks his finger on the pin that sealed Susannas note, which she has handed him, Figaro observing that it must be a love letter that the Count is holding. All ends in apparent satisfaction. Figaro will be married and the Count will have his way.
 The fourth act is set in the castle gardens, with two pavilions, one to the right and one to the left. It is night. Barbarina is searching for a pin she had dropped, [the pin, as she explains to Figaro, who has entered with Marcellina, that the Count had told her to give to Susanna. Figaro now suspects the worst and resolves to confront the pair of them, while Marcellina decides to warn Susanna. As they go, Barbarina runs in and enters the pavilion on the left, where she will meet Cherubino. Figaro appears with Don Basilio and Dr Bartolo, witnesses to Susannas infidelity, and tells them to hide, until he gives the signal. Alone, Figaro, now fired with jealousy of Susanna, has everything ready: men should open their eyes and see what women are really like. He conceals himself, as the Countess and Susanna, each disguised as the other, and Marcellina enter the garden. Marcellina withdraws to the pavilion on the left, while Susanna will take the air by the laurel bushes and the Countess hide nearby.]  Susanna now teases Figaro with her resolve to meet the one she loves, audibly celebrating her coming meeting with her lover.  Cherubino appears, in uniform, ready to meet Barbarina, but sees the Countess in her disguise as Susanna. She tells him to be gone, but they are separated by the intervention of the Count and of Figaro, the latter unseen, while Cherubino makes off quickly. Now the Count is left with his supposed Susanna, giving her a ring and money. Figaro emerges, to challenge the couple, the Countess pretends to be afraid and takes refuge in the pavilion on the right, while the Count moves away.  Susanna, imitating the voice of the Countess, urges Figaro to keep quiet, agreeing to watch her supposed husbands infidelity.  Figaro, however, recognises Susannas voice and urges her to be calm, in spite of her anger at his behaviour. The Count returns, approaching the pavilion, and Figaro now pretends to woo the supposed Countess, Susanna in her disguise, moving together to the left-hand pavilion.  The Count intervenes, calling loudly for witnesses, as he unmasks Figaro as his wifes lover and rushes into the pavilion on the left, where he finds Cherubino, Barbarina, Marcellina and the woman he supposes to be his wife. The true Countess emerges from the other pavilion, her identity now clear, as all ends in forgiveness and the Count seeks his wifes pardon for his behaviour.
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MOZART: Marriage of Figaro (The) (Glyndebourne) (1...