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MOZART: Le nozze di Figaro, (The Marriage of Figaro) (complete opera) – DGG (3)

A fine mid-course addition to what is proving an excellent series.

MOZART: Le nozze di Figaro, K492 (complete opera) – Thomas Hampson (Conte)/ Sonya Yoncheva (Contessa)/ Angela Brower (Cherubino)/ Christiane Karg (Susanna)/ Luca Pisaroni (Figaro)/ Maurizio Muraro (Bartolo)/ Anne Sofie von Otter (Marcellina)/ Philippe Sly (Antonio)/ Regula Mühlemann (Barbarina)/ Rolando Villazón (Basilio)/ Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Don Curzio)/ Ch. Orch. of Europe & Vocalensemble Rastatt/ Yannick Nézet-Séguin – DGG 4795945 (3 CDs), TT: 173:34 [Distr. by Universal] ****:

Record reviewers don’t seem to know what to make of this latest installment of the Rolando Villazón-inspired series of the seven mature operas of Mozart (this is number four). Metropolitan opera designee conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has had interesting things to say so far, and this, arguably the most popular of all Mozart’s operas, gets similar treatment. So what exactly is this?

Simply, modernly brisk though tasteful tempos, period instrument brass punctuations and over-dynamic forte explosions, crisp string playing, and an insistence that the drama keeps moving. Though modern instruments are used, they are employed with ancient instrument sensibilities even though the more lyrical passages actually sound lyrical and not like the all-too-typical rubber band sound of many period instrument recordings. The singers are also exhorted to keep up the pace, but in fairness some of your favorite dramatic exposés that serve as highlights to the opera are given due consideration and breadth.

This is not Giulini (with its amazing cast), nor even Solti (lesser but still great cast and much better sound), so it can’t be rated “best ever”. You’ll have to boost the bass (as I have with almost all recent DGG recordings since I first started buying them in the early seventies), but there is a lot of clarity and warmth to the recording. The singing is universally excellent– Sonya Yoncheva’s Contessa is passionate and glowing, one of the best portrayals in years. Likewise Luca Pisaroni’s Figaro, maybe the standard for the youthful century. Thomas Hampson’s third Conte is more reflective, less declamatory, a burnished and well-considered performance that will disappoint some who prefer to revel in the luxuries of the earlier voice. Christiane Karg does fine work as Susanna, with no noticeable weakness and much spot-on emotional fervency. Angela Brower’s Cherubino has seen much criticism as lackluster and underdeveloped, but I think these assessments are over-reactive and due more to the conductor’s demanding tempos—or maybe I am just spoiled by the likes of Frederica von Stadt. Marcellina’s Act Four aria, ‘Il capro e la capretta,’ is often excluded from both staged performances and recordings of the opera, but because of the presence of Anne Sophie von Otter it is here included, and she stamps it with her usual ability and authority.

The recording has also suffered from critics who deplore both its lack of overall dramatic arch, and its decided emphasis of such! While it is true that a staged performance might have added to the sense of action, this live concert reading does a fine job of conveying Da Ponte’s miraculously clear and convincing theatrical scenario. There is much, much to enjoy in this performance, a fresh take on an opera that can take it, and proof in the pudding that there is just no exhausting the wealth of riches found in this masterpiece. Great fun, expertly rendered, and reason enough to give it a try.

—Steven Ritter

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