Mozart's Le Nozze Di Figaro always has been one of my favourite operas, for its beautiful music(I can only think of some of the ensembles from Cosi Fan Tutte that are more beautiful and touching than the part where the Countess forgives her husband), fun story and memorable characters. This Zurich Figaro is not bad, in fact it is quite good. It's just that there is a lot of strong competition with the 1973, 1993, 1994 and 1998 productions as well as the Jean Pierre Ponnelle film, and I'll be honest in saying it was a little lacking for me.
There is no denying that the music is brilliant as you would expect from Mozart and the orchestra do play stylishly with many moments of beauty. My problem though was with Harnencourt's conducting. While I am not as dismissive of this production as the Penguin Guide were, I do agree that the conducting was plodding. This is especially true in the recitatives, the parts of the opera that move the story forward seem sadly lacking in life and character in this production. It's an approach that works for late Verdi and Wagner with all the heavy accents and all that, but not for a style that relies a lot on energy and character.
Visually I thought the production was pretty good myself. The production is dark at times, ominously so, understandably off-putting for people who prefer the traditional and and broad comedy approach. For me though, the approach worked for the more dramatic side of the story and the tense, contradictory situations that fill Acts 2 and 4. The stage direction was pretty decent, never dull and always trying to be interesting without being overly bizarre. There are parts though where it doesn't quite work, the big ensemble in Act 2 for example looked cluttered as a consequence of too much action.
Also, I didn't really care for Carlos Chausson as Figaro. This is especially disappointing as I am familiar with Chausson from his performances of Bartolo(Il Barbiere Di Siviglia, 2002) and Alfonso(Cosi Fan Tutte, 2000) and loved him as those two characters. However, these two characters are different in personality to Figaro, Bartolo is amusing and grotesque and Alfonso is world-weary and cynical, Figaro when played right(like with Prey, Terfel and Finley) is an appealing everyman. Chausson disappointingly was not very funny to me, in fact I found him somewhat dull. His voice is gorgeous though if in need of more colour.
Fortunately though the rest of the performances are great, with the standouts being Liliana Nikiteanu's Cherubino and Rodney Gilfry's Count. Nikiteanu's Cherubino is both boyish and sexy and she sings with such beauty and agility as well. Gilfry as the Count is the personification of arrogance, his voice is wonderful with an understanding of Mozart's style(not surprising considering his Giovanni and Guglielmo) and I do think he has the personality for the role.
Dispute not either the Susanna of Isabel Rey or the Countess of Eva Mei. Rey is wonderfully charming and pert in the most omni-present of the characters in the opera with a very emotive and sweet, I didn't notice that much shrillness if any, voice. Mei's Countess is very moving with a fascinating face and a great, if slightly tremulous at times, voice. She later went on to sing heavier roles like Thais, but while every role she's done has shown an intelligent and musical artist, few of them have shown her in more beautiful voice than she is here.
Volker Vogel is a very comic and smug Basilio, Elizabeth Von Magnus is a very commanding if slightly too young Marcellina(for me the sarcasm duet in Act 1 lacked the bite it should have done because the dig at Marcellina's age is not as credible) and Robert Holl is a characterful Bartolo. Overall, well sung and a good Figaro, just lacking. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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