Notes and Editorial Reviews
About the time that this filmed version of
Le nozze di Figaro
was made in 1976, its director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle gave an interview briefly discussing the differences he perceived between staged opera and filmed opera. “Visually a stage is fixed in one direction, from the spectator towards the stage, with a maximum of three walls. There is no fourth wall, because that’s where the auditorium is. The camera, on the other hand, allows us to move about 360 degrees. . . . I believe that camera techniques, film and television techniques, permit an additional musical component, an interpretative component, in the
realization of music theater.”
is any example to judge by, Ponnelle doesn’t so much add an interpretative element through film as replace several we’ve come to expect from stage productions. So on stage, sets are placed for viewing from one angle, where the invisible audience is anchored; but in this lip-synced film, the camera roams freely around and through spaces and sets that are solid and viewable from all angles. Some of those vantage points are excellently chosen, such as the act-III peasant girls’ chorus, viewed through a balustrade, the girls trailing off in seemingly haphazard fashion towards the rear door; or the setup screen for the opera’s overture, in which we observe Figaro’s hands repeatedly uncovering and evaluating a diversity of straw-stored household objects, perfectly selected for time and place, before shouldering most of it and physically moving to the new quarters chosen for Susanna and himself by the Count. Elsewhere, the technique isn’t at fault, but the director’s purpose for its use isn’t always apparent. Bartolo’s “La vendetta” has the old man spontaneously reappear as he sings each new line across the room, up or down one floor or two, without any movement of his own. It certainly opens up the space and adds visual energy, but remains out of sync with the non-magical style achieved in most of the film.
Ponnelle’s second “interpretative replacement” in this
comes from the greater freedom of subjective viewpoint that motion pictures support. On stage, it’s always possible to show a character’s emotions and viewpoint at any moment by moving them into physical reality, but they remain objectified, separate from the character. With a camera, you can move into characters’ heads, showing us the world through their eyes—and this is precisely what Ponnelle does. When Cherubino sings the first verse of his aria “Non so più cosa son,” he doesn’t really sing at all: instead, he stares in bewildered panic around the room, the camera alternately showing us his face, Susanna’s look of concern, and a 360 degree panorama of the room.
It’s a clever idea, and sometimes it works. While the Count muses privately, silently in the opening lines of act III, we overhear his thoughts; and there, it makes sense. The same technique applied to the Countess’s contemplative “Dove sono” works, too, though the soft focus, slow motion pair of lovers wandering idyllically through meadows that provide accompanying visuals is uninspired. But far too much time is spent like this. In Cherubino’s case, poor Maria Ewing is required to do nothing but stare in panic through much of her two solos, as well as Figaro’s “Non piu andrai,” where she furnishes the focus. As for the Count: most of his act-III aria is spent in a trial chamber where he thinks the music out loud, while Fischer-Dieskau attempts to use every smile, smirk, and supercilious sneer in his broad acting repertoire over several minutes as everybody else sits, waiting. It’s repetitious, and decidedly odd.
The performers are uniformly first-rate, though Prey’s vocal weight has worked to better advantage when he recorded the Count, and Fischer-Dieskau (who is otherwise completely in his element) can’t handle the brief coloratura of his aria. Böhm conducts with a leisurely grace that never lags, but allows a full appreciation of this grand score. I question the exaggerated acting and costuming required of Bartolo, Basilio, and Marcellina. (Montarsolo, whom I’ve seen in other productions, was a fine, realistic actor, so this must have been directorial choice.) Basilio’s jarring makeup and scarecrow wig in particular seem out of place among the realistic makeup and manners of the rest of the cast, right down to the nameless peasants. One piece of miscasting should also be noted: Janet Perry’s Barbarina. She sings the role well, but there’s no question either in voice or person that Perry was a good decade older than the early adolescent required by the opera. She looks to be in her mid-twenties. By contrast, Nanette Gottlieb, the first Barbarina, was 12 at the time of
Le nozze di Figaro
’s premiere, and 17 when she sang the first Pamina in
Subtitles are provided in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese, with an English synopsis offered in the enclosed booklet. The visuals are clear and well defined, with no hint of graininess or color shift. This is a
Le nozze di Figaro
that will impress you with all the ingenuity and effort put into its making. Sometimes it tries too hard, and it will certainly thrill you one moment, and exasperate you the next. But there’s much to be enjoyed from Ponnelle’s vision of the opera and its excellent cast.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1
Works on This Recording
Le nozze di Figaro, K 492 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Willy Caron (Bass),
Heather Begg (Mezzo Soprano),
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Soprano),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
Mirella Freni (Soprano),
Hermann Prey (Baritone),
Maria Ewing (Soprano),
Paolo Montarsolo (Bass),
Janet Perry (Soprano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria
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