Mozart's 'Le Nozze di Figaro' with Rodney Gilfry, Hillevi Martinpelto, Alison Hagley, Bryn Terfel and Pamela Helen Stephen; The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner; a 3-CD set from Archiv. THIS recording, part of Gardiner's series of Mozart's seven later operas, was taken live from semi-staged performances at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 1993. The 'live' quality shines through with a spontaneity and interplay among the singers too rare in these days of studio recordings compiled from several separate sessions that can be technically perfect, yet inert. Gardiner's light touch is like a magic tonic, injecting a playful energy where it's appropriate without slighting Mozart's many moments of heart-rending pathos. Many Figaro recordings have starrier casts, but few recent versions have such a well-balanced and integrated ensemble. Vocally, the big news is Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel in the title role, the same part in which he made a notable Metropolitan Opera debut this autumn. Smooth as silk, yet with an edge to his voice that shows he means business, Terfel is a natural for the part. He even embellishes his arias a bit, a custom in Mozart's day that few performers now attempt. The rest of the singers may not be destined for superstar careers, but they do just fine here. British soprano Alison Hagley sings delectably as Susanna; Swedish soprano Hillevi Martinpelto makes a delicate and sensitive Countess, and American baritone Rodney Gilfry uses his somewhat small voice to menacing effect as the Count. There isn't a weak link among the supporting cast. Verdi's Otello, with Placido Domingo, Cheryl Studer and Sergei Leiferkus, Orchestre et Choeurs de L'Opera Bastille conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, a 2-CD set from Deutsche Grammophon IT'S nearly 20 years since Placido Domingo first sang the title role of Otello, considered the ultimate challenge for a tenor in the Italian repertory. He is still the unrivalled master of the part today. This new recording shows him in fine voice. Time has robbed him of some of his youthful sound, but it also has deepened and darkened his interpretation. He's no longer quite as free and ringing in the heroic entrance or the love duet of Act I, but the tradeoff is a more convincing stress and anguish as his jealousy sets him on an inexorable course toward murder. Cheryl Studer, who apparently can and will tackle just about any soprano role in the recording studio, is a worthy Desdemona. She has the high notes to float above ensembles and the strong lower register she needs for her Act III encounter with Otello. Russian baritone Sergei Leiferkus makes an incisive, suavely evil Iago, though his distinctive sound - slightly harsh and nasal - may not satisfy those used to a richer, more traditional Italian baritone. The conductor is Chung Myung-whun, who was recently fired as music director of the Opera Bastille. It certainly wasn't because of his conducting, judging from the results here. He leads a very impressive performance, by turns tempestuous and tender.