Claudio Abbado’s recording of Le nozze di Figaro is a favourite of mine for many reasons, above all because it represents perfection in the most perfect of composers. Mozart is the hardest of composers in which to completely satisfy an audience. Everybody knows Figaro, everybody has their favourite tempo for each aria. No matter what tempo you choose as a conductor you are going to satisfy only some of the public. But if there is a perfect tempo for each number in Figaro, I think this recording finds it. Abbado had the ability—and experience, obviously—to choose tempos that are perfect every time. Nothing is super-fast, every note is audible, the textures are so transparent that he really brings out the inner voices, and it all bubbles along— exactly how Figaro should be.
ENO conducting fellowship in 2012 was a career milestone, and the Flute has become my entrée into other houses too. The fact that this Figaro was recorded in Vienna is also important to me, as from 2005 I went there regularly, sometimes twice a week, when I was juggling my studies at the Liszt Academy in Budapest with conducting
For the record …
lessons at the University of Music in Vienna. For five years I went back and forth—if I added up those trips I could have circled the globe three times. I was lucky to meet Abbado at the Lucerne Festival, where I was assisting Boulez, and I would always go to his rehearsals.
Gergely Madaras chooses a personal favourite
It’s always a sensitive question, asking a conductor whether they listen to recordings—but I would say, of course! Why else are recordings around? I know that when I do a modern piece I have to find my own way with it—everything is in the score anyway—and a recording might limit me. But with the more mainstream operas, it’s important to listen to traditions, which may be part of musical history but are not in the score. Sometimes traditions are good, other times they are there to be forgotten about—whichever, they need to be looked at critically. And this Figaro, one of the fullest editions on disc, was a good reference point when I was preparing for my first performances of this opera in Budapest three years ago.
Abbado had a pretty amazing cast for this recording—some artists, such as Cheryl Studer and Sylvia McNair, were caught at their peak. The standout for me is obviously Cecilia Bartoli, one of my favourite singers. Even if I cannot imagine her singing like this in the theatre—her sotto voce palpitations would not project—she sets a new level for Cherubino’s expressiveness. And there is a Hungarian connection for me in that Barbarina is sung so beautifully by a young Andrea Rost—we’ve worked a lot together, and she has even been my Desdemona. Figaro in this recording has come to mean so much in my life, but most of all I’d say it matters because of Abbado. He made Mozart timeless yet modern, so up to date in the way it speaks to us. Gergely Madaras conducts Laurent Pelly’s new staging of Donizetti’s ‘Viva la mamma’ in Geneva, opening on December 21.
Mozart operas are very important to me —the Magic Flute with which I started my
Le nozze di Figaro, with Lucio Gallo, Sylvia McNair, Cheryl Studer, Bo Skovhus, Cecilia Bartoli, c. Claudio Abbado (1995)
Opera, December 2018