Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Le nozze di Figaro
PERFORMER: Bo Skovhus, Marina Mescheriakova, Judith Halász, Renato Girolami, Michelle Breedt, Gabriele Sima, Janusz Monarcha; Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia/Michael Halász
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660102-04
Naxos’s Figaro is a companion to its Don Giovanni (reviewed December 2001): both hail from Budapest and share the conductor Michael Halász and leading baritones Bo Skovhus and Renato Girolami. At the price it would have to be seriously flawed not to provide good service to budget-conscious builders of opera collections. Happily, it’s free from serious flaw – indeed, its basic soundness of viewpoint guarantees all-round satisfaction. The score is given complete, with two of Mozart’s post-premiere alternative arias allotted to an appendix. Unlike René Jacobs’s period-instrument Figaro, recently issued by Harmonia Mundi (reviewed in April), Halász’s modern-instrument interpretation is free of quirks and musicological tics. It flows – steadily, skilfully, easily, with concern for singer-friendly phrasing. On the other hand, it offers none of Jacobs’s sometimes startling musical insights and dramatic excitements. And though Naxos’s cast is perfectly acceptable, a great number of alternative Figaro recordings exist with classier performances in every role. The two best-known members are Skovhus, whose Count has toughened but also noticeably coarsened since he recorded it for Abbado a decade ago (DG), and the tonally rather unfocused Russian soprano Marina Mescheriakova as a sympathetic but generalised Countess. The lively Susanna, Judith Halász, becomes squally under pressure; the Cherubino, Michelle Breedt, has a vibrant, womanly instrument more apt for the Countess. Girolami’s Figaro starts rather stolidly but later develops real depth and urgency of characterisation – his vigorous delivery of ‘Aprite un po’’ is alone responsible for my third star. Nevertheless, my recommendation to a Figaro newcomer is to go for the reissue of the gloriously graceful, humane 1955 Glyndebourne set under Vittorio Gui. It actually costs less, because with a shortened fourth act it fits on to two CDs; in spite of this it touches areas of Mozart experience unavailable from Naxos’s competent but un-special reading. Max Loppert