WORKS: Le nozze di Figaro
PERFORMER: Thomas Hampson, Charlotte Margiono, Barbara Bonney, Anton Scharinger, Petra Lang, Ann Murray, Kurt Moll, Philip Langridge,Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90861-2 DDD
It’s as well I qualified my outright recommendation of John Eliot Gardiner’s recent Figaro with a cautionary ‘perhaps’ (August 1994), for hard on its heels comes another masterly account which, if not surpassing it, certainly offers a viable and distinctly thought-provoking alternative. Whereas Gardiner offered a state-of-the-art traditional ‘period’ reading – brisk tempi, easy-going recitatives – Harnoncourt exposes the opera’s more serious face.
Harnoncourt’s tempi may be slower than those we’re accustomed to, but the gains are immense, not least because they work in relationship to each other as well as within the dramatic context, and they allow us to hear a formidable amount of usually obscured musical detail. The result is that the opera’s emotional centre is shifted away from the singers into the orchestra where Harnoncourt convinces us it belongs.
Not that his singers have anything to fear from rival versions: this is some of the most distinguished Figaro singing I’ve come across: insightful, technically poised and dramatically alert, yet fully in tune with Harnoncourt’s music-centred approach, making this Figaro another first among equals. Antony Bye