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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
An Introduction to … The Marriage of Figaro

Written by Thomson Smillie; Narrated by David Timson
Rec Motivation Sound Studios, London. No date given. [DDD]
NAXOS OPERA EXPLAINED 8.558078 [79’34]

Following directly on from Naxos’s Introduction to … Fidelio (Naxos Opera Explained 8.558077: link review), here is a layman’s guide to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. In terms of the operas themselves, comedy and farce in Mozart replace Beethoven’s high hymn to humanity. As in the case of the Beethoven, Naxos naturally uses its own recording for quotes (soloists with the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra conducted by Pier Giorgio Morandi) and, also as previously, this makes for a musically satisfactory arrangement.

Seeing Figaro in its broader context is a commendable, but not necessarily simple, undertaking, and so it is fitting that the ‘Background’ section of the disc (i.e. before we get to detailed discussion of the opera itself) takes up nearly 32 minutes of the total of 80. Tracing Mozart’s operatic trajectory is a fascinating journey, along the way taking in excerpts from Ascanio in Alba, Entführung, and on to Zauberflöte. Of course, Figaro is further contextualised within the sphere of da Ponte (with Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte), Beaumarchais and Rossini’s Barber: characters and their functions in the latter are effectively compared and contrasted.

As for the opera proper, it is a tribute to the care with which the spoken text has been assembled that the complexities of plot (which do appear more graspable when one sees the opera, but can so easily sound convoluted when one tries to explain them) come across as plainly and clearly as possible. An admission of this difficulty (‘only God and Mozart have ever followed exactly what happens in Act 4’) is touching in its honesty. Carefully chosen musical quotes from the opera help throughout, and will surely act as musical signposts when the novice actually listens to Figaro in toto (or, best of all, sees a production).

As a promotional tool for the full opera set, this Introduction fulfils its remit perfectly. There is something of interest for just about everybody, even those who may think they know the opera, its genesis and its context inside out.

Colin Clarke

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