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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro - an opera in four acts (1785-1786)
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, after the comedy La folle journeé ou Le mariage de Figaro by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1784)
Figaro - Teddy Tahu-Rhodes
Susanna - Taryn Fiebig
Dr Bartolo - Warwick Fyfe
Marcellina - Jacqueline Dark
Cherubino - Sian Pendry
Count Almaviva - Peter Coleman-Wright
Don Basilio and Don Curzio - Kanen Breen
Countess Almaviva - Rachelle Durkin
Antonio - Clifford Plumpton
Barbarina - Claire Lyon
Bridesmaids - Katherine Wiles, Margaret Plummer
Opera Australia Chorus/Michael Black
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra/Patrick Summers
rec. live, Sydney Opera House, 18 August 2010
Stage production directed by Neil Armfield
Set design by Dale Ferguson
Light Design by Rory Dempster
Directed for television by Cameron Kirkpatrick
Produced by Chris Yates and Sam Russell
Picture format: 1080 60i Full HD/Colour/16:9
Sound formats: LPCM Stereo/dts HD Master Audio 5.1
Sung in Italian with subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
Booklet notes in English, French and German
OPERA AUSTRALIA OPOZ56002BD [183.00]

Experience Classicsonline


French writer Stendhal (1783-1842), in his Lettre sur Mozart (1814), said of Le nozze di Figaro: “Mozart’s opera is a sublime mixture of wit and melancholy, which has no equal”. Stendhal’s words exactly echo my thoughts.
 
Le nozze di Figaro is my favourite opera and, to my mind, the nearest to perfection that one will ever be. We know that the idea of turning Beaumarchais’s play into an opera came from Mozart himself; even da Ponte - not famous for his modesty - admitted as much. We know very little about the process of composing Figaro for Mozart’s letters of that particular period, from October 1785 to April 1786, have not survived. Therefore, it is difficult to figure out how such a masterpiece came to see the light of day; however, in the end, although the “how” would be interesting for us today, it is not really important. What is important, is the sheer beauty of the music, the wit and Mozart’s undeniable special touch when it came to the stage.
 
Le nozze di Figaro was first performed on 1 May 1786 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. Sadly, it was not a resounding success. The probable reason, although we cannot be certain, was the campaign of the anti-Mozart Italian clique, which dominated the operatic scene in the Austrian capital. We know that they tried hard to get the opera banned from ever being staged on grounds of its radical political ideas. They did not achieve this but whether due to their actions or not, in Vienna,Figaro received less than ten performances after the premiere. However, the opera was to be extremely successful in Prague before spreading to other parts of Europe.
 
It is worth keeping in mind that at the time it was written and performed, Le nozze di Figaro was incredibly novel, almost revolutionary. By this I am not talking about just the politics, Cherubino, for example, is an extraordinary innovation, as he was possibly the first travesti role ever; the opera’s overture is another. It possesses no musical quotation from the opera itself, which was unusual, but perfectly expresses the feelings of excitement and tenderness that are present throughout. These are just two examples but there are many more in Figaro. This opera shows Mozart’s genius at its pinnacle. Its magic begins immediately with the first chords of the overture and only finishes, at the very end, with the remarkable and exceptionally beautiful finale of Act IV.
 
I have seen and heard Mozart’sLe nozze di Figaro countless times. Some productions and recordings remain deeply engraved in my mind: For example the Metropolitan Opera production from 1998 with Fleming, Bartoli and Terfel as respectively, the Countess, Susanna and Figaro. The there’s the 1992 recording by Sir Colin Davis with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Mirella Freni, as Susanna, and the inimitable Jessye Norman, as the Countess, for Philips Classics. The present blu-ray recording of the WNO’s and Opera Australia’s production is not one of those memorable moments though it’s definitely solid and pleasing.
 
The production was critically acclaimed but I find it hard to see why. There are many good things in it. For example: It was not strictly updated for a modern audience, with present day costumes or some conflict extracted from the news; that’s refreshing. I find it annoying when directors or producers feel that they must update everything or it will not engage a modern audience. Are today’s audiences incapable of understanding and enjoying a period piece? I think not and there are numerous examples that illustrate this.
 
This blu-ray Figaro is neither one thing nor the other. It is not modern but it is also not a real period piece. It suffers from too many idiosyncrasies, which I found distracting and unnecessary. For example: The Countess appears in elegant 18th Century costume but wears an atrocious wig, which is neither here nor there! Don Bartolo is also in distinctively 18th Century costume but his exaggerated wig just makes him look ridiculous. On the other hand, the Count appears in a clearly 19th Century hunting outfit when he goes into his wife’s bedroom. Simultaneously, as if the director could not decide which way he wanted to go, we have modern props turning up here and there. For example, a large hairdryer - of the sort we find in hairdressers today - can be seen in a corner of the Countess’s room. Why? I thought it was annoying and definitely out of place.
 
Having said all that, there is much to enjoy, once one gets past all the peculiar mannerisms and oddities! New Zealand’s baritone, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, is superb in the title role. The part suits his voice to perfection and his singing is flawless from beginning to end. His rather attractive, elegant stage presence also greatly enhances the character. Rhodes plays Figaro with both sensibility and humour, which lends the character a certain vulnerability, making him rather endearing. His Susanna, young Australian soprano Taryn Fiebig, is a sassy, sweet little minx - simultaneously seductive and innocent. She is in fine voice, possessing a glowing tone and an almost childish spontaneity that makes the audience warm to her right from the moment she first appears. There is a palpable chemistry between herself and Rhodes; a fact that makes their opera personae very believable, as a young couple in love, attempting to outwit their master. Count Almaviva is performed here by Australian baritone Peter Coleman-Wright who sings the part exceptionally well, displaying a good, solid technique and a rather rich tone. His dramatic skills are considerable and he is very expressive, particularly during his moments of angry jealousy or of desire both for his wife and Susanna, as well as having good comic timing when pursuing the latter. However his Count Almaviva does not quite work. He lacks the poise of an arrogant, powerful aristocrat and next to the tall, slender figure of Rhodes as Figaro, looks more the valet than the mighty master. Contrasting with Coleman-Wright as the count, Australian soprano, Rachelle Durkin, actually looks the part. She has a naturally graceful stage presence and is a fetching, elegant Countess. She wears the 18th Century dresses to great effect, though the wig is a bit of a mess and does not match her overall stylish appearance or her dignity as the neglected, suffering wife. She sings the part well enough. Her voice is clear, her tone pure; however, for a Mozart role there is too much vibrato and not enough legato and delicate sentiment. Her arias suffer from it, notably the sublime Dove sono. It lacks the subtle longing and sadness that make the piece so terribly moving and poignantly beautiful. Australian mezzo, Sian Pendry, plays a believable Cherubino, effectively portraying a teenager struggling with puberty. She sang her two arias well enough but appeared slightly hesitant in Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio. I thought that she was better in Voi che sapete che cosa è amor though I felt that her slight embellishments did not necessarily make the piece any more beautiful. The rest of the cast give solid, convincing performances in the minor or supporting roles, especially Kanen Breen as an affected, pompous Don Basilio. Warwick Fyfe is a heart-warming Don Bartolo - in spite of the bizarre wig - and he pairs rather well with Jacqueline Dark’s touching Marcellina. I must also mention the marvellous performance of Clifford Plumpton as Antonio, the gardener, and the lovely Claire Lyon as his daughter Barbarina, who sings with a very attractive crystal clear tone.
 
The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra is excellent throughout. I particularly enjoyed conductor Patrick Summers’ reading of the piece. He is sympathetic with the singers, keeping the orchestra in check but still allowing a clear voice to each of the individual instruments. He respects Mozart’s delicate pace and succeeds in bringing out the drama, the wit and the emotions. The subtle contrasts of darkness and light, melancholy and tenderness, the pensive and the high-spirited are all effectively brought to life. The orchestra and chorus, along with Tahu Rhodes as Figaro are the superlative elements in this blu-ray.
 
As I mentioned earlier, this is not a memorable production but it is likeable. The singers perform the parts effectively and there is an obvious understanding for the composer’s intentions. In the end, what is unforgettable, is Mozart’s timeless, sublime music, which, no matter how often you listen to it, always sounds fresh and has the power to move.
 
Margarida Mota-Bull
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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