Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze Di Figaro - Opera buffa in four acts (1786)
Susanna, maid to the Countess - Diana Damrau (soprano); Figaro, manservant to the Count - Ildebrando D'arcangelo (bass-baritone); Count Almaviva - Pietro Spagnoli (baritone); Countess Almaviva - Orsatti Talamanca (soprano); Cherubino, a young buck around the palace - Marcella Monica Bacelli (mezzo); Marcellina, a mature lady owed a debt by Figaro – Jeanette Fischer (mezzo); Don Basilio, a music master and schemer - Gregory Bonfatti (tenor); Don Bartolo - Maurizio Muraro (bass); Barbarina - Oriana Kurteshi (soprano).
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Alla Scala, Milan/Gérard Korsten
rec. live, Teatro Alla Scala, Milan, 2006
Original stage direction by Giorgio Strehler in 1980. Revived by Marina Bianchi
Set Design: Ezio Frigerio
Costume design: Franca Squarsciapino
Video Director: Fausto Dall’Olio
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1. Picture Format: 16:9. DVD Format NTSC 2 x DVD 9
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101589 [2 DVDs: 187:00]

This performance is of a staging by Giorgio Strehler dating back to 1980. It is recreated here by Marina Bianchi. Giorgio Strehler was one of Europe's most celebrated theatre directors. In his Piccolo Teatro in Milan he created outstanding interpretations of Brecht and Shakespeare. As an opera director he worked at all the major international opera houses. At the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, he was responsible for the outstanding and memorable productions of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra (1971) and Macbeth (1975), both of which, conducted by Claudio Abbado, led to memorable and outstanding award-winning sound recordings issued by DG.

The costumes by Franca Squarsciapino are in period and generally elegant except that for Marcellina and the tendency for the men’s hats to keep falling off, albeit rescued by the professionalism of the cast. Ezio Frigerio’s set for act one is a rather claustrophobic room in part poorly lit. This is fairly easily, and presumably quickly, adapted as the Countess’s bedroom for the act two shenanigans there. Cherubino has to be able to escape from the window to avoid the Count who is suspicious of what is going on behind the locked door. The act three set is a long, picturesque and elegant gallery. It’s perfect for the wide variety of comings and goings. The act four garden scene, always problematic, is less successful. It allows for a realistic representation of the goings and comings and the confusion of who is who, all central to the finale.

The series of performances represented the La Scala debut of Diana Damrau as Susanna. What a delightful and superb interpretation, both sung and acted, she presents. Certainly, she portrays a feisty young lass who would make a perfect wife for this revolutionary Figaro in the person of the tall and handsome Ildebrando D'Arcangelo. She would be a handful for any man, Count or otherwise, who thinks he will have first call on a virginal wife on their wedding night. All of D'Arcangelo’s vocal contributions, both in recit, aria (notably DVD 1 CH.8 and DVD 2 CH.27), duet or ensemble are outstandingly sung and portrayed in his acting. Damrau’s qualities as singer and actress match his throughout with a beautifully placed and phrased Deh vieni (DVD 2 CH.35) in act four. Her sheer quality does tend to overwhelm the rather tentative and stiff Countess of Orsatti Talamanca whose Porgi amor (DVD 1 CH.24) and Dove Sono (DVD 2 CH.12) lack the emotion and legato of the truly great interpreters. The Cherubino of Marcella Monica Bacelli looks far too feminine whilst singing her two arias adequately (DVD 1 CHs.14 and 27). Oriana Kurteshi is a pert, pleasing and worldly-wise Barbarina. Jeanette Fischer, somewhat like her costume, overplays her part. She sings her act four aria with conviction however (DVD 2 CH.27).

Of the men, Pietro Spagnoli as Count Almaviva sings well but seems somewhat frightened of the role. He is an excellent bravura Figaro in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (see review) but should be more arrogantly forceful than he comes across. His true baritone is easy on the ear but, as portrayed, I don’t think his Count really has much chance up against this Figaro. Maurizio Muraro is suitably vocally biting as Don Bartolo in La vendetta (DVD 1 CH.10) whilst Gregory Bonfatti is rather young-looking and less than effective as the scheming Basilio and makes little of his act four aria (DVD 2 CH.31).

The film detail is good with the Video Director, Fausto Dall’Olio, contributing a nice balance of shots. On the rostrum Gérard Korsten is a little penny plain. There is more joie de vivre in Mozart’s music than he finds.

This opera is widely considered as among the greatest ever penned. It is appropriate therefore to add a note about its creation and its librettist. Designated an opera buffa, it is based on the second of Beaumarchais’s trilogy of plays set around Count Almaviva. It is a superb marriage of composer and librettist, the latter being surely unique in the annals of music. Born a Jew, uneducated until near the age of fifteen, he was forced to convert to Christianity on the second marriage of his father when the boy became known as Lorenzo Da Ponte. He went on to become a distinguished scholar, a Catholic Priest, a recognised poet, a rebel and not least a libertine and adulterer when in Holy Orders. He arrived in Vienna at the turn of 1781-82, a year before the Emperor restored Italian Opera to the Imperial Theatre, the Burgtheater. The Emperor appointed Da Ponte Poet to the Imperial Theatres. In relatively liberal Paris, Beaumarchais’s play was, for many years, considered too licentious and socially revolutionary. It was similarly viewed in Vienna even after the more liberal Emperor Joseph II had come to power on the death of his mother. Da Ponte, with his access to the Emperor, worked the necessary miracles and got his permission for Le nozze di Figaro to go ahead on the basis of it being an opera and not the already banned play. This necessitated the more political and revolutionary aspects of the play being toned down, particularly the inflammatory Act 5 monologue. It was replaced by Figaro’s Act 4 warning about women which greatly pleased the Emperor. In between Da Ponte’s going backwards and forwards to the Emperor to overcome various worries, Mozart composed the music in six weeks despite a flare-up of up of the kidney condition that was to kill him five years later. Despite some opposition from conservative sections of the Court, the work was presented on 1 May 1786 to an audience somewhat bemused by the work’s novelty. At the second performance five numbers had to be repeated and at the third seven, with the duet Aprite presto performed three times.

Robert J Farr

This Susanna and Figaro are among the very best, but overall the performance lacks zip.