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Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro X 2
Mehta/Miller & Harnoncourt/Flimm on TDK DVD

For many opera lovers Le nozze di Figaro is the supreme example of that art form. To hear the familiar sound of these opening bars of the overture, as they settle themselves more comfortably in their plush seats, is their reassurance that they are promised an evening of musical delight.


But as this is Mozart's year let's be indulgent and devote a few minutes to considering just how lucky we are that Mozart ever came to write this work, that it was performed, and survives to the present day.


The source is a satirical play by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, whose name has passed down into history pretty much as a result of his Figaro plays. But playwriting was only a small part of his activities; he was also a master watchmaker, courtier, diplomat, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and successful litigant. He completed La Folle Journee ou le marriage de Figaro in 1778 but there were immediately problems with the censors. The Paris ian nobility were beginning to feel the stirrings that would erupt as the Revolution, and here, to quote Beamarchais' biographer Godin was ‘a courageous man who dared to comment on and to ridicule the libertinage of great nobles, the ignorance of magistrates, the veniality of officials, and the false pleadings of lawyers'. After years of wrangling, the play was at last approved for performance and its opening night in April 1784 was greeted with wild enthusiasm.


Word of the exciting new comedy spread rapidly, and within months Mozart had asked Lorenzo da Ponte to convert the play into an Italian libretto, and was himself at work on the musical score. Would Austrian censorship permit it or would this drama, already associated with the end of the old order be suppressed? Perhaps it was Mozart's music which carried the day – although certainly the more outwardly subversive passages are amongst the cuts made to reduce it from five acts to four – and the opera took the stage in 1786. This timing is crucial, had the opera been delayed, the storming of the Bastille just three year's later would surely have put paid to its chances – as things were, it was already established in the repertoire.


Acts 1 and 2 of the opera follow the corresponding acts of the play quite closely, but Act 3 is a combination of the third and fourth acts of the play. There has been some debate about the order in which Mozart planned the arias to be sung and nowadays the Count's famous monologue and outburst of rage Hai già vinta la causa! ... Vedrò mentr'io sospiro is usually followed by the Countess' soliloquy E Susanna non vien! ... Dove sono i bei momenti and the “trial” which dissolves in confusion when Figaro's parentage is revealed, is displaced until later in the act. This sequence is followed in both of these two versions on DVD from TDK.


Recorded at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, 2003


2 DVDs – 181 minutes

Conductor – Zubin Mehta

Stage Director – Jonathan Miller

Set Design – Peter J Davison

Costume Design – Sue Blane

TV Director – Paola Longobardo


Count Almaviva – Lucio Gallo

Countess Almaviva – Eteri Gvazava

Susanna – Patrizia Ciofi

Figaro -Giorgio Surian

Cherubino – Marina Comparato

Anyone who has seen Jonathan Miller's delightful Barber of Seville that is a staple at ENO will recognise his hallmarks here. Scenery, costumes and mannerisms are firmly of the eighteenth century, and the comedy is stylised, with much bravado from the gentlemen and simpering from the ladies, with everything leading directly from the music.


There are some sizable cuts in the 4 th Act removing both Marcelina's aria Il capro e la capretta , and Basilio's In quegli anni. They are largely superfluous to the plot, but without them Basilio in particular is left with very little to sing, and a good acting tenor can make much of this piece.


The singers throughout are evenly matched, and all are enthusiastically applauded by the audience. Mehta's conducting seems just a little lack lustre, and my over all impression was one of slight disappointment.


Recorded at Zurich Opera House, 1996


2 DVDs – 197 minutes

Conductor – Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Stage Director – Jurgen Flimm

Set Design – Erich Wonder

Costume Design – Florence von Gerkan

TV Director – Felix Breisach


Count Almaviva – Rodney Gilfrey

Countess Almaviva – Eva Mei

Susanna – Isabel Rey

Figaro – Carlos Chausson

Cherubino – Liliana Nikiteanu


This production is a much more abstract affair. The costumes are certainly inspired by eighteenth century fashion, but the characters behave in a contemporary way. Lighting creates the illusion of scenery and deck chairs replace the plush furniture of the period. The stage's revolve is used to excellent good effect in the final act's sequence of concealment and assignations, and the cuts referred to above are not made here.


Nikolaus Harnoncourt is in his element conducting at a sparkling tempo, and the cast respond with gusto clearly relishing the twists and turns of the plot. It's unusual for a coloratura soprano to be chosen for the role of the Countess, and Eva Mei sings Dove sono with some forcefulness. However, it is as much her aristocratic looks and demeanor that stand out and makes her performance a memorable one.


© Serena Fenwick