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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Le nozze di Figaro (1786)
Erwin Schott (bass-baritone) – Figaro; Miah Persson (soprano) – Susanna; Jonathan Veira (bass) – Dr Bartolo; Graciela Araya (mezzo) – Marcellina; Rinat Shaham (soprano) – Cherubino; Gerald Finley (baritone) – Count Almaviva; Philip Langridge (tenor) – Don Basilio; Dorothea Röschmann (soprano) – Countess Almaviva; Jeremy White (bass) – Antonio; Francis Egerton (tenor) – Don Curzio; Ana James (soprano) – Barbarina; Glenys Groves (soprano) – First Bridesmaid; Kate McCarney (soprano) – Second Bridesmaid; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano
Stage Director: David McVicar; Set/Costume Designer: Tanya McCallin; Lighting Designer: Paule Constable; Movement Director: Leah Hausman
Television Director: Jonathan Haswell
rec. live, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London, 10, 13, 17 February 2006
16:9 Anamorphic; Audio Formats: LPCM Stereo; DTS Digital Stereo
OPUS ARTE OA0990D [2 DVDs: 202:00]


Experience Classicsonline

There have been a couple of Figaros on DVD lately where the plot is distorted and the setting more or less absurd. After all this it is a relief to see that David McVicar presents a ‘normal’ version with elegant staterooms and period costumes. And it doesn’t seem in the least old-fashioned! On the contrary the sets, the costumes and the action go hand in hand with the music. The production breathes with Mozart - no artificial respiration is necessary - and we are confronted with real characters of the late 18th century. They are performed with a lightness and a cobweb-free liveliness that make them easily transformable to the present day.

McVicar has read the score closely and reacted to Mozart’s ‘under-story’ – the directions and comments that are in the orchestra, sometimes reinforcing the text, sometimes contrapuntal and even telling a different story. He, the composer, knows more than the characters themselves. In McVicar’s mind the overture is no mere prelude to the evening, where the audience have an opportunity to finish their conversations. This musical masterpiece is a little symphonic poem which, though in no way thematically related to the following play as the overtures to Così fan tutte and Die Zauberflöte are, lends itself to an amusing pantomime. And the high spirits that are evoked continue as an undercurrent all through the opera – even though there are also moments of darkness, even brutality. Count Almaviva, who is presented as a many-faceted human being, is also a hothead. In the second act he actually hits the Countess – maybe a nod in the direction of reality, where physical violence within marriage seems on the increase. Another parallel may be the teenaged Cherubino appearing markedly tipsy in the last act. Closer to the revolutionary ideas of Beaumarchais’s late 18th century is the obvious antagonism between Figaro and the Count. The third act scene with the sextet, when it is revealed that Marcellina and Bartolo are Figaro’s parents, is more straightforward comedy – but far from the slapstick farce it can sometimes be in less sensitive hands. Overall style is the buzzword for this production; inventiveness within a traditional concept. Just one tiny detail: there is no scene-shift between acts 3 and 4, just frozen positions and then over to Barbarina’s aria where she mourns the loss of the pin for which we have been prepared in the previous scene.

Musically it is also a highly attractive performance. Antonio Pappano paces the music excellently, giving the singers a certain freedom to make individual imprints and allowing them to embellish the vocal line. The effect is both stylish and elegant. It is also a musically very complete version where both Marcellina and Don Basilio are allowed their arias in the last act. Both are well sung. It is a particular pleasure to see and hear Philip Langridge in the latter role, vocally seemingly indestructible. He both looks and sings just as splendidly as he did when I last saw him on stage – and that must be close to twenty years ago!

Good singing and acting is moreover the order of the day with not a weak link among the cast. Erwin Schrott is a splendid Figaro, manly, youthful, good looking and a magnificent singer. He has bass notes that elude many a Figaro and generally makes a sensitive and believable valet. Miah Persson is a mercurial and expressive Susanna, definitely in the top flight of lyrical sopranos in the world today. Her facial expressions reveal all her feelings and she sings an exquisite last act aria. Together with her mistress, the Countess, she also performs a lovely Letter Duet in act 3. On her own Dorothea Röschmann excels in the Countess’s two arias, standing out as a truly tragic person but with a will of steel; this comes through in the intensity of her singing. Dove sono in act 3 is more powerful than most readings I have heard – but sensitive. Great singing indeed! Gerald Finley is also a splendid actor combining burnished tone with honeyed suavity when it suits him. Rinat Shaham is truly boyish in the notoriously difficult-to-cast role as Cherubino and sings with nervous passion. She is almost in the Christine Schäfer class, a singer to my mind unsurpassable in the role. Jonathan Veira, another splendid actor, makes the most of Dr Bartolo, even though he is more baritone than bass and lacks the booming bottom notes.

The presentation is exemplary with a detailed tracklist in the booklet which makes it easy to access individual numbers. The sound is splendid and the video direction excellent. There are enough overview pictures to get involved in the settings but the director works a lot with close-ups which pays dividends with so eminent a cast of singing actors. This is one of those DVD operas that requires to be seen again and more than once. Readers who don’t believe in over-fanciful reconstructions or transportations in time can rest assured that this is the real thing – and still up to date.

Göran Forsling 


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