Let me start off by saying that this an early seventies telecast of a Glyndebourne production, so the picture and sound quality aren't as pristine as you're likely get from, say, a recent Met broadcast. The picture is grainy, the colors occasionally garish, with video "ghosts" trailing the performers. The sound isn't as balanced between singers and orchestra as it would be in a modern recording, and the singing sounds rough, just a little, at times. No matter. That shouldn't deter any prospective buyers. This is a great Figaro at a great price. Why? It's Glyndebourne of course. And, more than anything else, it's the singers, baby, the singers!
The three female leads could not have been more ideally cast. Just imagine Kiri te Kanawa as the Countess, Ileana Cortubas as Susanna and Frederica von Stade as Cherubino. Then imagine all three of these lovely, obscenely talented young women in the same cast of the same production. Your heart's already beating a little faster? Okay, imagine them onstage AT THE SAME TIME, as they are during Act Two. Then be prepared to take a trip to Mozartean heaven. Each woman was born to sing her respective role, and it shows here, with nary a false note among them. Von Stade's Voi che sapete and te Kanawa's Dove sono are as fine renditions as you are likely to hear.
The men fare almost as well. I had never heard of Benjamin Luxon before, but his Count simply blew me away! His voice is overpowering, and his dramatic skills just as good, portraying all the arrogance, self-delusion and blustery confusion necessary for an exemplary rendition. Knut Skrum, our Figaro, was another new name for me, and to be honest, I wasn't nearly as excited by his performance as I was with Luxon's. Skrum hits the right notes, and he takes away the buffoonish elements that are often given to the character, which I feel is appropriate, I like seeing Figaro as a suave and savvy individual. I just feel that his portrayal is missing something, both vocally and dramatically, that extra "oomph" that would have sent it into the stratosphere. Still, this is hardly a fatal flaw, or even a flaw at all. When you have a good Figaro, and a great everybody else(the supporting cast is quite good), then this is a Nozze di Figaro for the ages.
John Pritchard leads a jaunty, uncut rendition of the score(all the act four arias are here). The traditional sets are so good as to be inconspicuous; in other words, the set designers have created such a convincing interior of a Count's estate that the singers blend in naturally with the surroundings, and the audience is left to admire the wonderful music.
The other Glyndebourne release of this opera, with Rene Fleming as the Countess, is quite good. Apparently the Met will release its unconventional production very soon(it features a couple of rare arias and a mezzo-soprano, Cecilia Bartoli, in the role of Susanna). Still, this Figaro is the one to own on DVD, it's certainly the one I am likely to return to more than any other.