ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Le nozze di Figaro
PERFORMER: Gilfry, Mei, Rey, Chausson, Nikiteanu; Zurich Opera Chorus & Orchestra/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt; dir.Jiirgen Flimm (Zurich Opera, 1996)
CATALOGUE NO: DV-OPNDF
There is much to be said against this 1996 Zurich Figaro. To wit: eccentric conducting by that overrated conductor Harnoncourt, full of contra-sense, anti-drama tempo choices, unnatural pauses for ‘meaning’ and perverse textural highlightings; a fussy, untidy, occasionally galumphing production by Jürgen Flimm in stale, let’s-upset-the-audience modernist sets; undercasting of the lesser parts; and film direction that misses too many musical tricks. If this were not enough, TDK’s presentation is poor — the English subtitles are spattered with spelling mistakes and nonsenses, and the booklet is ridiculously lacking in Mozartian background and performers’ biographical information.
To set all against this, four fine leading performances triumph over passing hazards and obstacles. The Spanish soprano Isabel Rey is a lovely, lovable Susanna, fresh-toned, appealingly sensuous in looks, exact in her tough-tender characterisation. As the Countess Eva Mei, a noted Rossini-Donizetti coloratura, may be light casting, but her vocal style and stage address are impeccable, and her native-Italian word-utterance really bites.
Carlos Chausson’s Figaro, at first ordinary-seeming, grows in the role, achieving a forceful outpouring of bitterness in his Act IV aria. And the physically commanding Rodney Gilfry, though hampered by Flimm’s horseplay, shows flashes of true authority as the Count. For these four alone it’s a Figaro worth watching, if hardly a first-choice acquisition. Max Loppert