After listening to this recording and reading the other customer reviews (which I thought were unimformative), I thought it would be only fair to present the other side of the coin. First of all, to imply that Harnoncourt serves himself and not the composer is simply untrue. Having listened to several of his recordings and read some of his writings, it's obvious that he does painstaking research on the music, composer and performance practices of the time period, before conducting a work -- especially one as great as "Figaro." He has also had more experience performing music of the 17th and 18th centuries (with both period and modern instruments) than most conductors who have recorded this opera. I don't ALWAYS like what he does, but I admire his dedication and genius, and most of his work is phenomenal. When I first heard excerpts of this recording I was amazed at both the incredible energy of the performance and the meaningfulness packed into every phrase. Harnoncourt's Figaro is not just pretty music; the emotional impact is stunning. If you remember your history, Beaumarchais' French play upon which the libretto is based, was a scathing political satire, NOT a light comedy.
Right from the start, while most conductors merely race through the overture, Harnoncourt takes a slightly more moderate tempo and brings out orchestral detail you'd never know was there. (To prove what I stated above, if you read his article "Mozart's Tempos and Le Nozze di Figaro" in the program notes, Harnoncourt explains that the Figaro overture is written in 4/4 or 'common' time. The overtures to Don Giovanni and Cosi -- which are usually played slower than that of Figaro -- are written in 2/2 or 'alla breve' time, a FASTER indication than 4/4.)
The one part of this recording I really dislike (and it's one of my very favorite scenes in the opera) is the Duet and Trio at the end of Act II (the argument between Count and Countess in which he accuses her of adultery and then opens her bedroom closet where he assumes her lover is hiding -- only to find Susanna inside!) Usually the Duet is taken rather fast, as would seem appropriate for a heated argument involving jealous rage and desperate denials; when Susanna emerges from the closet, shocking the Count and completely knocking the wind out of his sails, the subsequent Trio (marked 'Molto Andante') is normally taken slower. Again, Harnoncourt has done his homework. In Mozart's time, Molto Andante meant a faster tempo (Andante comes from the Italian verb meaning "to go" and indicated a medium fast speed); during the 19th century, as tempos became broader and slower, Andante gradually came to mean a slower speed. This all makes perfect sense. But to me, it just doesn't sound right.
Anyway, enough about conductors. The singers on this recording are exceptional. Thomas Hampson (the Count) and Barbara Bonney (Susanna) are two of the world's foremost artists, and here, their exquisite performances more than live up to their reputations. I'd never heard of Anton Scharinger (the Figaro) before, and while there are many equally good Figaros out there, I honestly can't say I've heard any significantly better ones. As for Charlotte Margiono, I HAVE heard the Countess sung by voices that were much more beautiful -- but she does sing well and her characterization is tender and full of nobility. Petra Lang is an attractive, youthful Cherubino and the rest of the cast are without exception fantastic, including a hysterically funny Kurt Moll as Bartolo, and Ann Murray who sings the best 4th act Marcellina's aria I've ever heard.
If you prefer a more traditional interpretation of Figaro, and opt for another recording such as Solti's or Muti's, at least buy the bargain-priced highlights of Harnoncourt's version. It doesn't contain the above-mentioned Duet/Trio scene, and it's sure to reveal what a powerful piece of drama Le Nozze di Figaro really is.