ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Le nozze di Figaro
PERFORMER: Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, Anna Netrebko, Bo Skovhus, Dorothea Röschmann, Christine Schäfer; Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopenchor; Vienna PO/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6558
With these forces, how could anyone possibly make a hash of this Figaro? Not, it seems, by accident.
This superb cast alone should outweigh most conceivable problems. You might perhaps find Counts and Countesses to match Skovhus and Roschmann, or a less black-voiced basso Figaro than D’Arcangelo; but surely none better. Even the hype-allergic could only applaud Netrebko’s Susanna, McLaughlin’s Marcellina, Schäfer’s Cherubino, and the rest of the ensemble. Ensemble it is, too, to an extent rare in such jetset festival stagings, with a genuine sense of interplay. Except that the interplay is consistently weird – either lifeless or agonized.
These days, one automatically suspects the producer, but it’s eminently clear that Harnoncourt is driving the process. This is one of the slowest, most turgid Figaros since Klemperer’s famous disaster; but unlike Klemperer, witty beneath that granite exterior, Harnoncourt leaches every trace of Da Pontean wit and Mozartian sparkle out of the music, so systematically it has to be deliberate. Why? The man himself confidently assures us that Figaro is witty ‘only in the sense of intelligent’ and that playing it as fast-moving comedy ‘degrades Mozart to the level of a second-rate Rossini’. Whether composer or librettist would agree is seriously doubtful; but disregarding that – as fashion demands – does this approach actually work?
Best answered, perhaps, by the DVD (see review, p84). But even if this intrigues you, I’d suggest you listen more widely – Gui, Giulini, Solti, Jacobs – before you risk good money. Michael Scott Rohan