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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Le nozze di Figaro (1786)
Lucio Gallo (bass-baritone) – Il Conte di Almaviva; Eteri Gvazava (soprano) – La Contessa di Almaviva; Patrizia Ciofi (soprano) – Susanna; Giorgio Surian (bass) – Figaro; Marina Comparato (mezzo) – Cherubino; Giovanna Donadini (contralto) – Marcellina; Eduardo Chama (bass) – Bartolo; Sergio Bertocchi (tenor) – Basilio; Eleonora Contucci (soprano) – Barbarina; Gianluca Ricci (bass) – Antonio; Carlo Bosi (tenor) – Don Curzio; Gabriella Cecchi and Laura Lensi – Two peasant girls
Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Zubin Mehta
Directed for Stage by Jonathan Miller
Set Design: Peter J. Davison; Costume Design: Sue Blane; Choreography: Susanna Quaranta; Lighting Design: Jvan Morandi; Director of the Stage Production: Massimo Teoldi; Directed for TV and Video by Maria Paola Longobardo
Recorded live at the Teatro Communale, Florence, 2, 15 and 18 October 2003
TDK DVWW-OPNDFF [2 DVDs: 181:00]

The name of Jonathan Miller as director has often meant breakneck transportations in time and setting. His Rigoletto production at ENO back in the early 1980s, set in gangster circles in 1920s Chicago was famous. More recently there was Stockholm’s L’Elisir d’amore set in the roaring 1950s in a bar and gas station somewhere in the Mid-West. The present production of Le nozze di Figaro on the other hand, is, true to the libretto, set in Mozart’s own time and the interior of Count Almaviva’s castle, where the first three acts are set, is indeed a late 18th century castle with all the traditional props. In the last act, though, we move out into the nightly garden. Here all the former realism is gone and the action takes place on a bare stage with some mighty stone walls or pillars, behind and around which the characters play their hide-and-seek game. Maybe Miller wants to point out that while the first three acts deal with a series of social games firmly set before the French revolution, the fourth act complications are so unlikely in Mozart’s or any other time, that they are to be seen as a theoretical or ideological game that can only take place in people’s imagination and so needs to be set in a milieu with no references to real life. So Miller is Miller after all: he lulls the audience into security during the first three acts and then breaks the illusion in the fourth.

When it comes to the action we recognize Miller’s hand time and again through the extremely detailed direction. Every movement, every gesture, every facial expression is so thought through, creating real characters of flesh and blood. At the end of the drama, this is a comedy but under the surface, conflicts, desires and lusts rage. Miller lays them all bare. At the end of the performance we know the characters and realize that they are no cardboard figures but complicated individuals. And, contrary to the practice of some directors, Miller is a listener. He knows that Mozart was a penetrating psychologist and that most of the emotions are built-in to the music, which means that one rarely gets the feeling that a character does anything against the music. One could object that there is too strong a sex fixation, even of a fairly rough kind, which would have been unlikely on the stage in Mozart’s time, but of course we know from Mozart’s letters and otherwise that he could be quite rough in his vocabulary, so there is a point here, too. But the music doesn’t speak this rough language. Even if Cherubino simmers with sex fixation, and the music illustrates it, he never goes over the top. Today’s audiences are of course not easily shocked and probably expects such over-explicitness and probably Mozart himself, if present at the Teatro Communale, would have enjoyed himself heartily.

Good and meaningful instruction is one thing but it also needs good actors, and whoever was responsible for the casting, he or she made a splendid job. All the actors look their parts and act utterly convincingly, but Marina Comparato as Cherubino and Patrizia Ciofi as Susanna grab every opportunity to make their characters live. With the exception of Russian-born Eteri Gvazava’s Contessa, all the singers are native Italians which gives an added fluency, especially to the long stretches of recitativo secco. I also must express my admiration for Maria Paola Longobardo’s video direction, which is extremely alert and catches all the many fine details in clarifying close-ups.

Musically Zubin Mehta leads the excellent Maggio Musicale orchestra in a well-paced performance. The singing is on a high level, especially on the female side. Pride of place must be given to Marina Comparato, who is an enchanting Cherubino, delivering an ecstatic Non so più in the first act and singing even better in the second act’s Voi che sapete. Patrizia Ciofi is a suitably lively Susanna, making the most of the second act aria Venite, inginocchiatevi when she dresses Cherubino in girls’ clothes and singing a lovely Deh, vieni, non tardar with Figaro eavesdropping in the fourth act. She also embellishes the aria discreetly and elegantly. The beautiful Eteri Gvazava is well suited to the mournful Contessa, finding the right melancholy tone in her two arias. Giovanna Donadini plays Marcellina with a bold heart but is denied her aria, a fate that also falls upon Basilio. Dramatically neither of the omissions is a great loss. Barbarina’s miniature aria is retained however, prettily sung by Eleonora Contucci, even though both the box cover and the booklet state that Carlo Bosi takes the part when, as far as I can understand, he in reality is the severely stuttering Don Curzio. Both Lucio Gallo, a magnificent Conte, and Giorgio Surian as an uproarious and jolly boisterous Figaro, are a bit dry-sounding and would probably not be so attractive on a sound-only recording. Here they give excellent portrayals of their respective characters, parts that I suppose they have been singing for ages. Eduardo Chama’s rubber-face is an asset in his portrayal of Bartolo and he sings his Vendetta aria with suitable venom.

I have never quite understood why the considerably longer Don Carlo, that I reviewed recently, could be squeezed onto one DVD while this Figaro fills two. Anyway, for those who want to enjoy isolated arias and even recitatives, there is a generous amount of cue points: 40 on DVD 1 and 35 on DVD 2. The quality of sound and pictures are all one can wish for and there is an interesting essay by Dietmar Polaczek in the booklet.

As readers must already have concluded I didn’t dislike this Figaro at all, on the contrary I give it a hearty recommendation. All the opera lovers that I know of prefer a stylish performance with period costumes and sets and that’s what you get here.

Göran Forsling



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