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Perhaps no opera is closely and affectionately associated with a single house as Le nozze di Figaro is with Glyndebourne. Effortlessly witty yet shot through with pain and sadness, this deeply ambivalent life in the day of masters and servants as they scheme and outwit one another was Glyndebourne’s opening production in 1934. Michael Grandage’s staging is the seventh, set in a louche Sixties ambience. Marshalled by the ‘ideal pacing’ of Robin Ticciati, a youthful cast of principals has ‘no weak link’ and ‘looks gorgeous’ (The Sunday Times) in a production that continues Glyndebourne’s rewarding history of engagement with Mozart’s and da Ponte’s ‘day of madness’.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
LE NOZZE DI FIGARO
(Blu-ray Disc Version)
Countess Almaviva – Sally Matthews
Figaro – Vito Priante
Count Almaviva – Audun Iversen
Susanna – Lydia Teuscher
Cherubino – Isabel Leonard
Bartolo – Andrew Shore
Marcellina – Ann Murray
Don Basilio – Alan Oke
Antonio – Nicholas Folwell
Don Curzio – Colin Judson
Barbarina – Sarah Shafer
First Bridesmaid – Ellie Laugharne
Second Bridesmaid – Katie Bray
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Robin Ticciati, conductor
Michael Grandage, stage director
Recorded live at Glyndebourne Festival, June 2012
- The Greatest Opera Ever Written
- From page to stage
Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: LPCM 2.0 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Japanese, Korean
Running time: 180 mins
No. of Discs: 1
Despite some qualification, Glyndebourne’s new Figaro (summer 2012) is a delight. The curtain opens during the overture on the outside of a Spanish mansion—just what we might expect from an opera set on the outskirts of Seville—with shiny tiles, Moorish arches, and handsome latticework, and townsfolk bustling back and forth. It’s startling to see a circa late-1960s red sports car pull up and have the Almavivas get out: they’re coming home from somewhere or settling into their summer getaway. The Count is the very picture of not-such-great-taste, sporting a page-boy haircut and costumed in a velvet suit with bell-bottomed pants and a wide-lapelled, multi-colored shirt. He obviously is quite a swinging dude, and director Michael Grandage and his wonderful designer Christopher Oram have placed the opera in the decade of the flower children. Will this work?
We meet Figaro and Susanna, dressed more moderately (she would appear to be pregnant in a black outfit with white collar, but it’s never mentioned) and nicely familiar. She is spunky and he seems like a nice guy, and he certainly doesn’t like the fact that his boss wants to sleep with his fiancée, although she seems able to take care of herself. And why should Figaro like it? This is the 1960s or ’70s, and despite the fact that Franco is still in power, the Count’s request is not a feudal right; it’s nothing but bullying. And so Beaumarchais’ and da Ponte’s satire on class war no longer exists, and that tends to be the crux of the opera in its original setting.
Instead, we get the never-ending battle of the sexes, a look at an unhappy marriage, and a rather nasty, wealthy guy with a sense of entitlement along with a pretty good comedy peopled by what seem like real people. During “Non piu andrai”, which Figaro sings while the Count is present, the two men hang out like chums, Figaro leaning with an arm on the Count’s shoulder. Susanna never curtsies and she seems genuinely concerned with cheering up the Countess. If you’re willing to forego the pre-Revolutionary subtext, you’ll have a fine time, especially watching the cast do the twist at the wedding and during the finale. The absolutely natural stage action eschews slapstick and vulgarity and the singers seem more than happy to adapt. Vito Priante’s Figaro, shorn of class anger, is a bit mild, but his stage presence and singing are extraordinary. Rhythmically precise throughout, he eats up “Aprite un po’…” in the last act and is superb in ensembles. Lydia Teuscher’s Susanna is a rich-voiced, non-soubrette, observant Countess-in-the-making; and of course, within this context she might some day have the same social standing. Sally Matthews, if she had a trill for the end of “Dov’e sono”, would be a perfect Countess: her predicament is very clear, and you sense that she wishes she were more lighthearted, more able to adjust to the swinging attitudes going on around her. The voice itself is a gorgeous, full lyric. Audun Iversen’s Count is a sloppy, privileged tyrant, all the more frustrated because no one will pay any attention to his nastiness. His singing is the least neat of all, but he’s a powerful presence. Isabel Leonard’s Cherubino is perfect—boyish and sassy and nimble.
Class acts Ann Murray and Andrew Shore, both a bit vocally worn, are nonetheless a terrific Marzellina and Bartolo, and Alan Oke’s Basilio is snidely right-on. (Neither he nor Marzellina get their last-act arias.) Sarah Shafer is a fine Barbarina, looking to be about 14 years old. And as mentioned, Oram’s luxurious sets add to the special feel of the production. I’m somewhat stumped by Robin Ticciati’s conducting of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The instruments are period but the approach is mid-20th century—not slow or heavy, really, but somehow lacking the zip we expect these days. The finale of Act 2 is wonderfully clear but lacks the “accidental” mania it should have. There are plenty of laughs from the Glyndebourne audience, but the whole affair is not the insane day Mozart envisioned. The preferred DVD versions are Pappano’s from Covent Garden (Opus Arte) and Jacobs’ (on BelAir); nonetheless, this new one is fresh and charming and a good bet.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
MOZART Le nozze di Figaro • Robin Ticciati, cond; Vito Priante (Figaro); Lydia Teuscher (Susanna); Audun Iversen (Almaviva); Sally Matthews (Countess); Isabel Leonard (Cherubino); Ann Murray (Marcellina); Andrew Shore (Bartolo); Sarah Shafer (Barbarina); Alan Oke (Don Basilio); O of the Age of Enlightenment; Glyndebourne Ch • OPUS ARTE 7118 (Blu-ray: 154:00+14:00) Live: Glyndebourne 2012
Le Nozze di Figaro: The Greatest Opera Ever Written? Le Nozze di Figaro: From Page to Stage
What do we have here? A Marriage of Figaro where the noble couple arrive home in a snazzy Austin-Healey convertible; where the Susanna sports a 1950s-style maternity top and an obvious baby bump in her wedding dress; where the Count wears a velour-trousered leisure suit with bell bottoms, and shares a hand-rolled joint with his maid while trying to grope her; where the peasants at the festivities (along with the Count) dance the Twist and the Frug; where several of the characters look like they were outfitted on London’s Carnaby Street in the 1960s. We get all of that, along with some lavish Moorish-style sets and a historically informed pit band, in this 2012 Blu-ray video from the Glyndebourne Festival. Helped along by some excellent singing, it all proves quite satisfactory and highly entertaining.
I’m not sure a pregnant Susanna makes much more sense than a pregnant Juliet; after all, the Count is supposed to be trying to amorously seduce her, and is asked to attest to her virginal status prior to the wedding. But when a pregnant lead soprano turns up for work, I suppose the show must go on. The soprano in question, young German lyric Lydia Teuscher, does, in truth, look quite attractive and well worth seducing even in maternity garb, and the fine singing she brings to Susanna more than compensates for the slight loss in verity to Da Ponte’s libretto. In fact, all of the singing is quite excellent, down to the luxury casting of noted mezzo-soprano Ann Murray in the role of Marcellina. (Unfortunately, her act IV aria, along with Don Basilio’s, is cut.) Young Italian bass-baritone Vito Priante brings a rich and accurate instrument to Mozart’s title character, and his rather hyperkinetic acting has been toned down a bit by director Michael Grandage to more properly fit the production concept (and the close-up cameras). Aside from Murray, the best-known singer in the cast is probably British soprano Sally Matthews, who here is a quite lovely and enjoyable Countess and provides finely sung versions of “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono.” She also combines beautifully with Teuscher to sing a consummate “Sull’ aria,” one of my favorite duets in all opera. The Count with his 60s-style Mod haircut, mustache, and hippie style clothes, comes off as a bit ridiculous, robbing the character of any real menace, but baritone Audun Iversen also has a fine, rich voice, and brings a rather comedic swagger to the part. He also brings much avid physical contact to his enthusiastic pursuit of Susanna. (One might wonder why in the Act IV Garden Scene he fails to notice the lady he is embracing is minus the belly). Isabel Leonard continues her rapid climb to the top ranks with this lively and endearing portrayal of boy Cherubino; some say she steals the show here. Oh, and she can really sing, a joy to listen to. As usual for Glyndebourne, the smaller roles are finely cast as well. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provides a properly light touch in Mozart’s score, just as this wonderful little light comedy demands.
There are over 20 versions of this opera out on video, several fine ones among them. In Blu-ray format the field is much smaller. Perhaps the Covent Garden production from 2006 with Erwin Schrott in the title role is the equal to this one, I haven’t seen it, but it has gotten good reviews. As with nearly all Glyndebourne productions I have seen, they provide full value here with elegant sets, fine singers, and a well-rehearsed cast in a charming staging. Le Nozze is a bit of a special opera for the Festival, as it inaugurated the series back in 1934 with a cast including the owner’s wife, Audrey Mildmay. The Glyndebourne forces have done the opera full justice in this new production, and this entertaining Blu-ray set deserves to be highly recommended.
FANFARE: Bill White