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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze Di Figaro - Opera buffa in four acts, K492 (1786)
Susanna, maid to the Countess - Ileana Cotrubas (soprano); Figaro, manservant to the Count - Knut Skram (baritone); Count Almaviva - Benjamin Luxon (baritone); Countess Almaviva - Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano); Cherubino, a young buck around the palace - Frederica von Stade (mezzo); Marcellina, a mature lady owed a debt by Figaro - Nucci Condo (soprano); Don Basilio, a music master and schemer - John Fryatt (tenor); Don Bartolo - Marius Rintzler (bass); Barbarina - Elisabeth Gale (soprano)
Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/John Pritchard
Director: Peter Hall
Set Designer: John Bury
Video Director: Dave Heather
DVD Format, DVD 9/NTSC. Sound Format, PCM Stereo. Picture Format, 4:3
Subtitle Languages: Italian (Original Language), English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet notes: English, French, German
rec. 1973, Glyndebourne
ARTHAUS MUSIK 102301 [179:00]

Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro is widely accepted as among the greatest operas ever penned. Designated 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, in this case Lorenzo Da Ponte, a man surely unique in the annals of music. Propitiously, he arrived in Vienna at the turn of 1781-82, a year before the Emperor restored Italian Opera to the Imperial Theatre, the Burgtheater and was appointed Poet to the Imperial Theatres by him. This gave easy access to his august and all powerful employer.
 
In relatively liberal Paris, Beaumarchais’s play was, for many years, considered too licentious and socially revolutionary for the stage. It was viewed similarly in Vienna even after the more liberal Emperor Joseph II had come to power on the death of his mother. Da Ponte, used his access to the Emperor and managed to get his permission for Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaroto 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 an inflammatory Act 5 monologue being replaced by Figaro’s Act 4 warning about women and which greatly pleased the Emperor. 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 at the very young age of thirty-five.
 
As my wife and I were into our stride of watching this performance, her brain got into gear and she asked if we hadn’t seen this before. There were two answers to her question. First, we had seen this performance when it was transmitted on terrestrial television courtesy of ITV and Southern TV. Secondly, we had seen the production when it came on tour to Manchester’s Opera House on 25 October 1973 when we paid the princely sum of eighty pence each for seats on the front row of the balcony. These facts, and the programme, like the superb production and opulent naturalistic sets, have long remained in my mind’s ear and eye. Before, and since, I have seen many Figaros. These include productions by Covent Garden, English National Opera, Opera North and the Welsh National Opera, as well as on numerous videos, without seeing this magnificent work better staged, albeit the Covent Garden production by David McVicar and conducted by Antonio Pappano, recorded and broadcast in 2006, runs it close. Add a very good cast and an outstanding conductor of Mozart’s sublime music, I have, inevitably, to ask the rhetorical question; is there any down-side? Bluntly, yes there is. Unlike the performance from the Salzburg Festival in 1966 conducted by Karl Böhm, which is in black and white only (see review) I cannot hide from the fact that the colour here is not of the sharpness of the standard caught on record in the last ten to twenty years. In the opening act I thought for a moment or so that it was in monochrome with a sepia wash. In fact it is much better than that, but without the picture sharpness and with a very dark last act. The latter at least has the questionable virtue of making the action and mistaken identities plausible.
 
The opera is about Figaro’s marriage and the efforts of the Count Almaviva to re-assert his feudal rights of the marriage bed of the bride. Gone is the suave suitor of Beaumarchais’s and Rossini’s Almaviva. By the second part of the trilogy, superbly realised by Da Ponte’s libretto and Mozart’s music, this Count is an arrogant seducer who is intent on put his lascivious urges before the happiness of his wife and any other woman he fancies. Benjamin Luxon, a true baritone voice, plays and sings the role as well as more famous names on the international circuit, of which he was also a part. As the eponymous Figaro, Knut Skram, lithe of figure and firm of tone is very good. Not a name as well remembered as others in the cast, he sang nine seasons with Glyndebourne whilst focusing most of his career on his native Norway where he made a significant contribution to operatic and musical life before formally retiring in 2001, but still singing ten years later. As his beloved Susanna, Ileana Cotrubas, as ever, presents an appealing stage presence and acts well whilst singing with clear diction and expressiveness. Kiri Te Kanawa sings the Countess with beautiful tone, clarity and phrasing. She doesn’t have to reach for the high tessitura and can sing the words with meaning and expression along with clarity. No wonder she was the outstanding exponent of the role in the last decades of the nineteen hundreds. Similar statements can be made about Frederica von Stade’s Cherubino. Once or twice, in profile, one can see a woman’s face, but her acting and singing of her two arias in particular are exemplary and she makes a most convincing lovelorn young man. Nucci Condo as Marcellina looks far too young to be Figaro’s mother, this blustering Doctor Bartolo must have been into paedophilia at Figaro’s conception! As Barbarina, Elisabeth Gale is enchanting, much as she was as Susanna in the tour performance I saw. All the minor parts get their arias in act four.
 
As befits the Glyndebourne tradition, this is a complete Figaro. This was the opera that initiated the Glyndebourne Festival in the 1930s. The musical lineage includes several great Mozartian conductors. John Pritchard, who had been associated with Glyndebourne since 1947, when he had been assistant to the great Fritz Busch, shows why he was admired in this repertoire. The chorus are vibrant and fully involved in their acting.
 
The numbering of the Chapters in act four quickly goes awry by one.
 
Robert J Farr
 

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