Notes and Editorial Reviews
Le nozze di Figaro
René Jacobs,cond; Pietro Spagnoli (
); Annette Dasch (
); Rosemary Joshua (
); Luca Pisaroni (
); Angelika Kirchschlager (
); Sophie Pondjiclus (
); Alessandro Svab
); Antonio Abete (
); Enrico Facini (
); Pauline Courtin (
); Serge Goubioud (
); Théâtre des Champs-Élysées Ch; Concerto Köln (period instruments)
BELAIR 17 (2 DVDs: 182:00) Live: Paris 6/2004
René Jacobs’s performances of
Le nozze di Figaro
at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées took place some 15 months after the Harmonia Mundi studio recording, a set lavishly praised in
28:1 by Bernard Jacobson (“may well stand alongside the famous Callas/de Sabata
as the greatest realization of an opera ever put on disc”), and me, although James Camner advanced an alternative view. For the stage production, Jacobs had a cast in which only Angelika Kirchschlager’s sensual Cherubino and Antonio Abete’s splendid Bartolo retain the parts played in the audio recording. Texturally there is no variation, which means we get the arias of Marcellina, and Basilio in act IV, often criticized for holding up the action, but convincingly defended by Jacobs in the booklet of the HM set (an abridged version of his comments is reproduced in BelAir’s well-produced booklet) as crucial to Mozart and da Ponte’s structure.
Jean-Louis Martinoty’s production and the sets are—merciful heavens—firmly rooted in the 18th century, but by no means weighted down by convention. This Count Almaviva is something of an art connoisseur, a point underlined at the start of act III, where he is seen discussing artefacts that have been brought to him for possible purchase. One, an hourglass, will later be examined by the Countess while she sings “Dove sono,” one of many imaginative little touches. The décor is thus dominated by pictures, mainly by lesser-known French 18th-century artists like Outrey, providing considerable flexibility, and working to magical effect in the final act, where Almaviva’s gardens are based on decorative floral designs by Jan van Huysum and others, the translucency of which greatly aid the unraveling of the complexities being played out. The period costumes are equally attractive; richly burnished or muted yellows and browns for the principals, with bright primary colors for the peasant chorus, although my wife took exception to Marcellina’s red and white candy stripes.
Only once, in my view, does the production seriously falter visually. In act II, the Countess’s boudoir is dominated by a huge image of the legs of the crucified Christ, and also includes various other religious paraphernalia such as a
, on which she kneels before singing “Porgi, amor.” It was equally wrongheaded to have the curtain rise on the Countess indulging in a temper tantrum, smashing up her best porcelain. “Porgi, amor” is neither an aria born of rage, nor a religious invocation, but rather one of the most poignant and heartfelt pleas for the return of lost love ever composed. In this context, it is perhaps significant that Annette Dasch’s singing of the aria provides one of the weakest moments, a tentative, nervous performance that gets the second act off to a disappointing start after one of the most dramatically compelling realizations of act I anyone could ask for. Later Dasch improves to deliver a good “Dove sono,” but in truth, apart from her youthful looks and acting, she is no match for the more dignified and assured Véronique Gens on the studio recording.
Elsewhere Martinoty, aided by an unusually handsome-looking cast—Pietro Spagnoli’s Count would surely not need
droit du seigneur
to have any woman he wanted—hardly puts a foot wrong. I doubt you’ll encounter a better-acted
anywhere; it was particularly interesting to find the dangerous relationship between Cherubino and the Countess that I noted in the audio recording here visually confirmed. The scene in which Susanna dresses Cherubino in girl’s cloths exudes a barely suppressed sexuality already established with Kirchschlager’s insinuating and beautifully ornamented “Voi che sapete,” accompanied by the Countess on her harpsichord. Indeed, there is a moment to treasure when she gestures to Cherubino to turn the page, but such is the chemistry between them at this point that he ignores her, so she just stops playing to gaze at him, only picking up the music again with the reprise.
Small wonder that Almaviva wants to see Cherubino gone, and “Se vuol ballare,” convincingly delivered by Luca Pisaroni’s virile young Figaro with almost sadistic relish and much mockery, strongly suggests he feels the same way. His Susanna is played with sparkling vivacity by Rosemary Joshua, whose musical intelligence and experience of the role allows her to fit comfortably into Jacobs’s conception. At the risk of sounding ungallant, she’s a rather older-looking Susanna than one is used to (certainly senior to her mistress and her fiancée), but she is nonetheless captivating, and caps a splendidly sung assumption of the role with a ravishing “Deh vieni” that includes an unforgettable
at the fermata. The secondary roles are all well filled, if perhaps not quite as strongly as on the audio set (I certainly missed Nuria Rial’s utterly winning Barbarina).
Not surprisingly, Jacobs’s direction has all the merits of the HM recording, although it is interesting that few of the tempos match. Overall, the performance runs for some 10 minutes longer, giving the impression that his interpretation has perhaps “bedded down” a little. But no definite pattern emerges; some speeds are indeed marginally quicker, and doubtless many of the variants were dictated by playing out the opera on stage rather than just being sung into the microphone. Otherwise, the same rare qualities of his reading remain: the close attention to recitative, which—coupled with the lively spontaneity of the acting—draws the listener even more deeply than usual into the events of the “crazy day”; the ability to create in ensembles a quasi-madrigalian finesse and sense of balance; and the obtaining of orchestral playing of unparalleled verve, clarity, and warmth (listen, for example, to the phrasing of the oboist in “Dove sono,” or the introduction to Barbarina’s little F-Minor cavatina at the start of act IV).
For anyone not hopelessly addicted to a more traditional style of performance, this
for a DVD version, just as the HM audio recording is in its field. To have the opportunity to enter the world of Mozart’s miraculous creation is one of the greatest pleasures open to mankind; to do so in the company of René Jacobs is nothing short of a privilege that deserves eternal thanks.
FANFARE: Brian Robins
Sound: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Subtitles: Italian, French, English, German, Spanish Read less
Works on This Recording
Le nozze di Figaro, K 492 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Enrico Facini (Tenor),
Antonio Abete (Bass),
Angelika Kirchschlager (Mezzo Soprano),
Pietro Spagnoli (Bass),
Annette Dasch (Soprano),
Rosemary Joshua (Soprano),
Alessandro Svab (Bass),
Serge Goubioud (Tenor),
Sophie Pondjiclis (Mezzo Soprano)
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria
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