WORKS: Le nozze di Figaro
PERFORMER: Rodney Gilfry, Hillevi Martinpelto, Alison Hagley, Bryn Terfel, Pamela Helen Stephen, Susan McCulloch, Carlos Feller, Francis EgertonMonteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 439 871-2 DDD
Mozart’s operas are so all-embracing in their concerns that no single conductor is able, it seems, to do equal justice to each. I found John Eliot Gardiner’s recent Così rather bland and uninspired. This new Figaro – a more ambivalent, indeed more cynical work in so many ways – is on a higher level altogether, an enlightening (one hesitates to apply the over-used epiphet ‘revelatory’) period performance galvanised by a palpably sure sense of dramatic wherewithal.
In common with others these days (though not Arnold Östman on the only other currently available period-instrument account), and with good musicological reasons, Gardiner re-jigs the ordering of Act III, positioning ‘Dove sono’ somewhat earlier than usual. He departs more radically from tradition by offering, in addition, a reordered version of Act IV. This is convincing as scholarship as well as drama – two qualities which inform the whole of this sparkling yet searching performance, a team effort which nonetheless permits plenty of sharply etched characterisation as well as some exceptionally fine singing.
Indeed the casting can hardly be faulted: a dark, even menacing Figaro (Bryn Terfel), a vixenish, knowing Susanna (Alison Hagley), a suave yet incisive Count (Rodney Gilfry), a radiant but far from droopy Countess (Hillevi Martinpelto) and an ardent, hyper-sexed Cherubino (Pamela Helen Stephen). Excellent cameo support too. Perhaps this is the near-perfect Figaro we’ve all been waiting for… Antony Bye