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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze di Figaro, K.492 (1786) [190:31]
Figaro - René Pape
Susana - Dorothea Röschmann
Contessa Almaviva - Emily Magee
Conte Almaviva - Roman Trekel
Cherubino -Patricia Risley
Don Basilio - Peter Schreier
Marcellina - Rosemarie Lang
Bartolo - Kwangchul Youn
Barbarina – Yvonne Zeuge
Antonio – Bernd Zettisch
Staatsopernchor; Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim
rec. 1999, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin
Video 16:9, Audio, Stereo, DD 5.1
Region 0.
Sung in Italian
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean
ARTHAUS MUSIK 111110 DVD [99:54 + 90:37]

Arthaus celebrates fifteen years of recordings with this re-issue of its first opera, a Marriage of Figaro conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and featuring an outstanding cast.

Barenboim has a fine feel for opera buffa. One of his early recordings was a 1976 DG version of Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto, which remains the best both for its starry cast and Barenboim’s sharp and sparkling conducting. In Figaro, he also moves things along crisply and clearly, bringing a lot of woodwind to the fore. The Act III Wedding March hustles right along, sounding appropriately celebratory, instead of slackening into a torpor of glacial courtliness.

I was especially interested in how Pape would handle comedy. He does quite well as it turns out. He is no buffoon, but makes a smart, amiable, yet rebellious Figaro. Dorothea Röschmann is here a spirited Susanna, instead of the stately Countess she has become in more recent Figaro productions.

Roman Trekel is an effective Count. He sings with some real menace, reminding you that he is the villain of the piece, and not just a smooth baritone singing prettily. After a while, you begin to not notice his silly minimalist wig. Contrast him with Gerald Finley, the Count in Pappano’s 2006 Royal Opera production. Finley grimaces mightily in order to look like the bad guy, but his silken voice undercuts his evil. In the end I prefer to hear the silken voice, but Trekel better reminds one of the point of this drama.

Emily Magee is paired well as Countess, holding onto her dignify with desperation. Patricia Risley is a good Cherubino, upon whom the most slap-stick moments of this production are displaced. Other roles are also well sung, including Kwangchul Youn’s Bartolo. The luxuriousness of the casting is suggested by having Peter Schreier sing Don Basilio.

Stage Director Thomas Langhoff aimed for a very traditional presentation. It is straightforward, so that the only complications on stage are the schemes, lies, disguises, interrogations and shocking discoveries offered up by Da Ponte. The sets are rather plain; a bridge over the stage mixes things up a bit by permitting action on two levels in Acts 3 and 4. Lighting is a problem, mostly in the final act. It takes place in a garden at night, and one imagines that the production was clear enough in Berlin in 1999 but what has made its way onto the DVD is much murkier than Da Ponte likely imagined. At the very end, when the cast rushes off into a rosy-fingered dawn, it looks more as if they are running toward the gates of hell, an unfortunate way of bringing this joyous opera to a close.

As with the poor lighting, so also the sound is not top rate. It grows on you, but when comparing this DVD to a somewhat newer version, Antonio Pappano’s 2006 Covent Garden production, the deficiencies are striking.

This is a very well sung and faultlessly paced production, mostly not bad to look at, but with second-rate sound. Fans of any of the singers might enjoy this opportunity to consider again an interesting DVD. Better recordings are available, including the Pappano.

Richard Kraus

Previous review (Blu-ray): Robert Farr



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