The glorious Glyndebourne opera company enters the live recordings business with an absolutely superb and appropriately glorious performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro from 1962. The cast is outstanding, the Royal Philharmonic in the pit plays like angels, and conductor Silvio Varviso gives the whole operation a sense of life and ensemble that is rare whether live or in the recording studio. And therein lies the magic of this performance. As musically magnificent and dramatically compelling as the individual components are, the whole is incomparably greater than the sum of its parts.
The cast is an absolute dream. This was one of Mirella Freni’s first Susannas, and she is extraordinarily fresh and sensuous. Edith Mathis sings Cherubino as if she were (mostly) an angel. Gabriel Bacquier projects a complex mix of the magisterial, the sinister and the vulnerable. Leyla Gencer sounds gorgeous, heartbreakingly on the boundary between innocent youth and knowing maturity. Heinz Blankenburg is a powerful and dynamic Figaro.
In a way, as one of the French critics noted, the result is a tribute to Glyndebourne’s great Mozart productions before World War II, directed by Carl Ebert and conducted by Fritz Busch. There is a sense of theatricality, of rapport among the characters, and of interplay between the singers and the orchestra (whose elegant contributions, which represented the height of stylistic authority in those far-off days before original instruments informed our every waking Mozartian moment, cannot be overstated), all of which combines to give the story the kind of dimensionality that transforms it from an opera of mere genius into a profound human comedy. Signaling this accomplishment, the singers fall under the spell of Mozart’s music, falling in love with Mozart as it were, so that the comedy has a profoundly authentic foundation.
The presentation (mainly the libretto with translations into English, French and German) is appropriately elegant and sumptuous, recalling the quasi hard-cover book treatment of the late, lamented Andante label. The sound is full and alive, capturing the sense of the stage with almost tangible reality, and the voices and instruments are captured with often startling beauty.
Glyndebourne’s new label, which was launched to coincide with the 2008 Festival, will take its recordings from both the current and archive repertoire, beginning in 1960. In addition to this Figaro, the other first release is the 2006 Festival production of Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.
– Laurence Vittes