Le Nozze di Figaro

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aka: The Marriage of Figaro

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte

Based on the play by Pierre Beaumarchais

First Produced: Burgtheater Vienna, 1786

Present Company: Royal Opera House 2006

Director: David McVicar

Sets & Costumes: Tanya McCallin

Lighting: Paule Constable

Video Director: Jonathan Haswell

Royal Opera House Orchestra & Chorus

Conductor: Antonio Pappano


Figaro: Erwin Schrott
Susanna: Miah Persson
Countess: Dorothea Röschmann
Count: Gerald Finlay
Cherubino: Rinat Shaham
Marcellina: Graciela Araya

Doctor Bartolo: Jonathan Veira

Don Basilio: Philip Langridge

Barbarina: Ana James

Antonio: Jeremy White


Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50 x 2

Opera: 29.94 + 27.42 GB

Bit Rate: High (33-42 Mbps)

Italian DTS-HD MA 5.0

Italian PCM 2.0 stereo

Region: All

Opera runtime: 184 minutes

Opus Arte 2009



Conception & Staging: A-

Set & Costumes: A-

Casting: B+

Singing: A

Orchestra: A-

Music Direction: A-

Video Direction: A-

Image: A-

Audio: B+

Extras Features: A

Recommendation: A-



With so many principle and secondary characters it would be easy to misstep in the casting.  Figaro is one of the most popular operas and its large cast of colorful characters have assumed iconic proportions in the minds of many an opera enthusiast.  It is not enough to have the right Figaro and Susanna, separately and together, the same is true for the Count and Countess. And they have to work as two couples whose identities can be mistaken. Nearly as essential are the first tier of supporting players Doctor Bartolo, Don Basilio, Marcellina and the irrepressible Cherubino - for all play their parts and have araias to match in this drawing room satire about infidelity and the end of the feudal system.  Even on audio recordings, one usually carps about one singer or another, often on grounds of character alone.



Unlike an audio recording, every singer must not only represent the character physically but also act the part and, as in any play, be at their marks while maintaining lively yet disciplined ensemble.  If I quibble here, it is not on musical grounds - for everyone sings well - but on character.  Israeli Mezzo Rinat Shaham’s Cherubino is too thick - or maybe it’s just her costume. And she’s not nearly pretty enough as boy or girl thanks to makeup designed to turn her into a young man.  On the other hand her drunk scene in the last act is persuasive.  German soprano Dorothea Röschmann’s Countess lacks the necessary class, and she has a distressing way of shutting her eyes throughout most of the magnificent third act Dove sono, which she sings beautifully by the way, as she does her first doleful aria, Porgi amor - the voice lacking only that refinement we would get from a pure audio recording.



Uruguayan Erwin Schrott as Figaro and Swedish soprano Miah Persson as Susanna are just about perfect vocally and completely believable as lovers, in which embrace they fall tenderly and delightfully and often.  Schrott’s big baritone nails Non più andrai with the sardonic enthusiasm it deserves just as he acts out the boastful Se vuol ballare.  Susanna’s dueling duet with Graciela Araya’s Marcellina in the first act is delicious comedy.  On the other hand, her one big aria in the final act Deh vieni, non tardar reveals that she rolls her “r’s” too deliberately. Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley’s Count has plenty of dash which he alternates with enthusiastic outrage.

All the voices sound about the way we expect to hear them projected from a stage to mid-orchestra seats. The chorus is very good, if a little subdued, but the closing stretta for each of the acts are handled brilliantly by all.  (Mozart proudly talks about this effect in the film Amadeus when he is introduced at court, though he is referring to a much earlier work - The Abduction from the Seraglio.  The idea is that he extends the anticipation of the closing chords by several minutes of increasing tempos and textures.  If the stage could have admitted cross-cutting Mozart would have anticipated Francis Coppola by two hundred years.)



The set is traditional, allowing Figaro’s large room to be wheeled out into an even larger foyer that doubles as the Countess’s boudoir and all of the action of the last two acts.  Streams of window light bathe the foyer; the size, direction and intensity of the light changes with the progression of the hours.  This is a huge space, permitting any number of characters to hold the stage and the eye without our getting confused about who’s where.


Image quality is very good, the very high bit rate helps to hold highlight detail nicely.  There is some noise at times in the shadows of night scenes, but it is easy to ignore once the action captures the eye.  Colors are magnificent and true, given the rustic palette.  The only downside is that in high definition we see more than we want: Schrott tends to sweat more than a little and Graciela Araya can be too watchful of the conductor.  Come to think of it, I looked hard and long to catch Miah Persson sneaking a look but I never saw it.  Subtitle translation is idiomatic and without any spelling mishaps that I noticed and in an unobtrusive white font.




Because high-def spotlights everything, including our attention to vocal production, every nuance of level change, for example when a singer turns to face upstage, that would not have occurred during a pure audio recording are noted.  These soon pass, the distraction: minimal.  There is no question that the engineer is trying to compensate or bring this or that voice forward or recess another, but I think for the most part we are only aware of the manipulation if we’re looking for it.  Generally it’s pretty subtle. In the 5.0 audio mix, the balance favors the orchestra too much as the music gets louder, as in the finales, but most of the time it is well balanced.  The vocals sound more convincingly projected from a stage in the surround mix than in 2.0, which for some reason generates a fatiguing hardness that eliminates it from the running.  The third and fourth acts are not as bad in this respect, but all in all, the 5.0 is the way to go here.



Except for Don Basilio’s fourth act aria, In quegli anni, which strikes me here as a superfluous touch of comic relief overkill (he said, redundantly), Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro is perfection in the form, the likes of which has never been equalled (he said, presumptuously.)  And this is true even with Basilio’s aria intact, which it must be if we are to include Marcellina’s very fine aria that precedes it for the sake of balance if nothing else.  On the other hand, perhaps it just Philip Langridge’s delivery.  He certainly isn’t as interesting or as musical as Raul Gimenez in the part on Opus Arte’s Teatro Real Madrid 2011 production, which I shall get around to comparing before too long.



In addition to an informative 34-page booklet, Opus Arte includes two promo pieces in HD (1:30 & 1:13) and a small backstage production piece (7:00) in standard definition with comments by Stage Director, David McVicar, Conductor Antonio Pappano, Figaro Erwin Schrott, Susanna Miah Persson, Count Gerald Finley. Everyone contributes, but Pappano’s insights are well worth the price of admission.  There is also a very nicely produced visual synopsis of the entire opera (10:50).


I’ve seen Le Nozze di Figaro staged several times over the decades and own several LP recordings, and while this production in terms of singing, texture or dynamics, is no match for Erich Kleiber’s 1955 Decca/London with Cesare Siepi, Lisa Della Casa and the Vienna Philharmonic, this Blu-ray gets high marks for consistency of singing and characterization, conducting and playing.  Of course I am influenced here by the superb visuals and excellent staging (save the last act which loses its way for a few minutes as Figaro stalks his “wife”). This Opus Arte Blu-ray was the first opera I watched in high definition (except a couple of early Met Live in HD theatrical presentations, which I felt sucked in respect to both sound and picture quality) and was more than pleasantly surprised by the high level of its presentation as well as the singing and acting. Warmly Recommended.



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

April 28, 2012

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