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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Le Nozze di Figaro (1786)
Countess Almaviva – Janice Watson (soprano)
Count Almaviva – Ludovic Tezier (baritone)
Susanna – Elzbieta Szmytka (soprano)
Cherubino – Francesca Provvisionato (mezzo-soprano)
Figaro – Giovanni Furlanetto (bass-baritone)
Marcellina – Tiziana Tramonti (soprano)
Doctor Bartolo – Marcello Lippi (bass)
Don Basilio – Sergio Bertocchi (tenor)
Barbarina – Rebecca Hofmann (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Lyon Opera/Paolo Olmi
Directed for the stage by Jean-Pierre Vincent
Directed for television by Mate Rabinowski
Recorded at the Opera House, Lyon circa 1995
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 410 [Total time: 3 hours 9 minutes]

The Lyon Opera has a strong tradition of intelligent productions in recent years and this inventive, well-sung Figaro is no exception. It was filmed in the mid-nineties, when Kent Nagano had firmly made his mark, and though it is conducted by one of his proteges, Paolo Olmi, the playing and singing have the sort of vitality that Nagano has made a speciality of in opera.

Although the plot of this opera is basically simple (the Count has designs on Susanna and tries to ruin her marriage to Figaro) am I alone in finding the various intrigues and sub-plots unbelievably difficult to unravel? This is where DVD comes to the rescue, and it is a pleasure to have succinct subtitles and clear-headed direction helping the viewer to make sense of this 3 hour-plus comedy of errors. Of course, as with all comedy masterpieces things go much deeper than that, and it is obvious that the director and former actor Jean-Pierre Vincent is not going to miss a trick. The action is set firmly in period, with a slightly stylised stage design (huge beds, for one) that suggests the correct ambience and location (clear hints of Spain) while being simple and uncluttered. This allows for the stage action to flow freely and gives room for the singers in the big ensemble finales to correctly dominate the stage.

All the principals are on good form. Givanni Furlanetto’s suitably youthful Figaro is musical, very well sung and subtly acted; he clearly understands the character, capturing the knockabout fun as well as the grace, goodwill and sheer optimism of the part. His Susanna is the lively, commanding and natural Elzbieta Szmytka, who also looks the part and is in exceptional voice. They make a very watchable couple. The experienced Ludovic Tezier gives a multi-layered portrayal of the Count, part spoilt baby and part bully incapable of controlling his desires. The scene in Act Two where he is determined to break down the Countess’s dressing room door shows the two traits colliding, and it is makes his acquiescence at the end all the more moving. His partner is our own Janice Watson, who delivers Porgi amour with great dignity and rectitude, while hinting at the lovesick child underneath. All other sub-principals are equally involving, and the delicious comedy moments are given their full due.

The orchestral playing is a delight, with sprung rhythms and delicate woodwind helping to support the natural, youthful freshness of the singing. Camera direction is understated, never intrusive or fussy, and the attentive audience does not ruin the flow with constant set-piece applause (they can be forgiven for Porgi amour). There are no extras, but with such a long opera on one disc, that seems fair enough. All in all, a highly desirable release.

Tony Haywood

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