Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze Di Figaro - Opera buffa in four acts (1786)
Susanna, maid to the Countess - Isabel Rey (soprano); Figaro, manservant to the Count - Luca Pisaroni (bass-baritone); Count Almaviva - Ludovic Tézier (baritone); Countess Almaviva - Barbara Frittoli (soprano); Cherubino, a young buck around the palace – Marina Comporata (mezzo); Marcellina, a mature lady owed a debt by Figaro – Jeannette Fischer (soprano); Don Basilio, a music master and schemer – Raul Gímenez (tenor); Don Bartolo - Carlos Chausson (bass); Barbarina - Soledad Cardoso (soprano). Antonio, gardener – Miguel Sola (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real, Madrid/Jesús López-Cobos
Stage direction: Emilio Sagi
Set Designer: Daniel Bianco
Costume designer: Renata Schussheim
rec. live, Teatro Real, Madrid. 16, 18 July 2009
Sound Format: LPCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio
Picture Format: 16:9.
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish

Prior to receipt of this issue, also available on DVD, I had not come across the Teatro Real label. Now all in a rush I see several issues of flamenco performances from the same source. However, as far as opera is concerned it has been Teatro Liceu in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, that has featured in a number of opera DVDs I have reviewed. These have often used productions shared by other theatres in Europe. The present disc features one used in theatres in Bilbao and Gran Canaria. Digging deeper, I find that the performance on 16 July was transmitted to cinemas across Europe, and hence, I assume, the basis of this issue.
Spain is very much the focus of the performance staged by Emilio Sagi, Teatro Real’s former artistic director. The sets, by Daniel Bianco, are representative of Count Almaviva’s palace at Aguafrescas, Seville. Courtyards are in view from the room allocated to Figaro and Susanna in act one (CHs. 2-20), as well as the proceedings in act three (CHs.39-62). The Spanish focus of the staging also includes the dancing of a fandango at the marriage ceremonies in act three being accompanied by castanets in the Andalusian tradition. The period costumes continue the Spanish theme, notably with Figaro and Susanna at their wedding being dressed in black, although why Bartolo and Marcellina are not similarly attired I do not know.
The staging and sets are evocative with props rather limited in the first two acts. In the room allocated to the young couple in act one, only a bed is present. Under this Cherubino and then the Count hide, the former moving to the top and being covered by a sheet as the latter moves under as Basilio arrives. In act two, the large spacious apartment of the Countess is bleak except for her bed, perhaps underlining her view of her marriage. The act four setting is one of the more imaginative that I have seen either live or on film for some time. It succeeds in making the various mix-ups that are narrowly avoided, or actually happen as planned, believable. The use of gauze drops, particularly that representing voluptuous trompe l’oeil curtains, is also very imaginative.
Visually there is a lot going for this performance. Musically the picture is rather less than the sum of its considerable parts. Jesús López-Cobos is a less convincing Mozartean than I had expected. His pacing is careful rather than scintillating. In this he falls short of the brio that the likes of Giulini, yesteryear (EMI CD), or Pappano, currently (Opus Arte DVD/BluRay BD7033), brings to the score. However, the complete score is welcome, particularly in the balance it brings to act four with both Marcellina’s aria (CH.66), and that for Don Basilio (CH.68), far too often cut, being included.
As to the singing and characterisation, the story is again mixed. In the eponymous role, the tall and physically imposing Luca Pisaroni, the Leporello de nos jours as evidenced in the role at Glyndebourne in 2010 (see review) and the transmission to cinemas from the Met on 29 October 2011, is not quite in the skin of Figaro. Figaro is a bit of a revolutionary, ready to stand up to his master and manoeuvre matters to the latter’s discomfort. Despite the claims he makes about his birth, he is not one of the ruling classes and the manoeuvring he does needs to have more bite, bitterness even, in the voice. Whilst this quality is very much present in Figaro’s act four aria as he thinks Susanna is unfaithful (CH.70), it is lacking as he threatens that the Count will dance to his tune in the cavatina Se vuol ballare, signor (CH.6). In general he is much more convincing vocally in act four when faced with his fears and eventually making up with Susanna (CHs.77-78) than in dealing with the Count of Ludovic Tézier. This relationship is accentuated by his being taller than Tézier whose singing, whilst being even toned, mellifluous and graceful lacks the arrogance of his status. He also seems to forget the Count is a serial seducer. The Bartolo of Carlos Chausson is well acted and his aria has real teeth as he remembers that Figaro deprived him of his ward (CH.8) as seen in Rossini’s Seville opera. It is a delight to hear Raul Gímenez’s elegant phrasing and straight portrayal of Basilio; at last one that is not camped up, (CHs.14 and 68).
Among the ladies there is another portrayal that is questionable in respect of visual impact. The Susanna of Isabel Rey is well sung and acted except that the frequent close-ups tend to give the impression that she is old enough to be Cherubino’s mother. This is not helped by the very correct upright stance and facial expression she adopts as she sings. Without the visual impact of the close-ups her singing, her vocal characterisation is altogether appealing with her act four recit and aria Deh vieni (CHs.72-73) being well shaped and a joy to hear. As the Countess, Barbara Frittoli has odd moments when it sounds as if a bigger voice is trying to escape. She, like many I hear in the role, fails to float the ethereal high notes demanded in the two famous arias (CHs.21 and 51) and struggles to maintain a legato line at times. The Cherubino of Marina Comporata is a delight as an over ardent adolescent young buck, singing both her arias (CHs.12 and 24) with good expression and tone. Jeannette Fischer, despite her greying hair and dress, is up for it as she romps on Figaro and Susanna’s bridal bed in anticipation of having the former as a young husband in act one. She shapes her recit and aria in act four with good phrasing allied to excellent diction and good acting (CHs.64-66). Soledad Cardoso portrays and sings a convincing sweet-toned Barbarina (CH. 63).
The associated booklet includes a detailed track-listing with cast and timings as well as an informative essay along with an act-by-act synopsis, all given in Spanish, English, French and German.
Le Nozze Di Figaro is widely considered among the greatest operas ever penned. It is a superb marriage of composer and librettist and features in the repertoire of all the great opera houses of the world. The sets in this production do it justice even if the performance overall does not replace other favourites.
Robert J Farr

Satisfactory cast and pedestrian conducting limit the impact of spectacular sets and complete score.