David McVicar's spellbinding production of Le nozze di Figaro is — set in 1830s post-revolution France, where the inexorable — unravelling of an old order has produced acute feelings of loss. In — the relationship between Fin... more »ley's suave, dashingly self-absorbed
Count and Röschmann's passionately dignified Countess, which
lies at the tragic heart of the opera, the sexy ease between a
feisty Figaro (Erwin Schrott) and a sassy Susanna (Miah Persson)
is starkly absent, the tenacious spark between Marcellina
(Graciela Araya) and Bartolo (Jonathan Veira) suggesting what
might be rekindled. The production is superbly complemented
by the beauty of Paule Constable's lighting and Tanya McCallin's
evocative sets. Antonio Pappano conducts (and accompanies the
recitatives) with invigorating wit and emotional depth.« less
"A David McVicar production practically guarantees creativity and excitement and this maverick director's 2006 Royal Opera Figaro magnificently fulfills the bill. While it's true this Figaro has several innovations - updating the time to 1830s France, some men in top hats, servants all around (like in his Manon, eavesdropping), a strong emphasis on sexuality and the Count's violent nature - what truly makes the Figaro memorable is the synergy, the chemistry McVicar has brought out in the acting and vocalizing, and in the pit from conductor Anthony Pappano. This is simply the best of the half dozen DVDs I have seen of this masterpiece.
McVicar has displayed how successful he is in this regard in his compelling Rigoletto and Manon (I haven't seen his Magic Flute and Giulio Casare and I had mixed feelings about his Carmen). Here too, the ensemble, the interrelationships between characters, the personalities of the protagonists are so strongly etched. This is the most theatrical, physical, earthy Figaro I have ever seen.
In his notes to the DVD, McVicar downplays performers' emphasis in Figaro on "rococo charm," but if not rococo, this production has no lack of charm when called for. And a Figaro without charm is not a complete Figaro. Conversely, McVicar's ample toughness and darkness are also appropriate, since the opera has many moments of seriousness, duplicity, mistaken identity, confusion and hearts being broken.
There are many moments to savor in this production, and McVicar's rethink of certain events is largely treasurable. The sarcasm between Susannah and Marcellina in Act one doesn't drip it flies, it pours. Delicious! Their interaction at the end of Act 2 I've never seen more powerfully done. The servants overhearing a good deal of the opera's proceedings lends a most interesting and appealing aspect to this mad day, a sense that the Count's time, his control, his power, are coming to an end. So too do the very noticeable blemishes on the walls of the Count's chamber, a wonderful touch as to the decay, the crumbling of his world.
Erwin Schrott is a dark and sensual Figaro, powerful and more rebellious when called for (Beaumarchais' play was indeed revolutionary) than any other I have seen, and he sings beautifully. Miah Persson cuts a lovely swath and brings out all the charm and strength of Susanna. Gerald Finley is a nasty, dominating Count, his baritone richly resplendent (interestingly, he looks a lot like Schubert here). Rinat Shaham's Cherubino is utterly compelling with both a kittenish charm and a masculine presence. These four command the stage yet interact superbly with the others.
The strong voiced Countess of Dorothea Roschmann has many lovely moments although on occasion her voice can become stressed and turn hooty. Philip Langridge's wildly creative and funny Basillio practically steals the show in Act 4, if his aria can ever do that (as the Witch in the Metropolitan Opera's simulcast of Hansel and Gretel, he also brought a wonderful daring and fun wickedness to that role). Jonathan Veira's voice is fine and his wonderfully bulging eyes have to be seen in Bartolo's Act 1 "la vendetta."
Pappano brings out ample does of vitality and warmth in the pit from his Royal Opera forces, bending generously to his singers wishes when needed and giving a masterful interpretation. He is an ideal match for McVicar's creativity, his full-of-life production.
Act 4 is notoriously difficult to bring off totally, with characters in a garden supposedly being hidden and overhearing others without being seen. Few productions totally convey this and McVicar's doesn't entirely either. A few leaves falling and some trees don't establish a garden when there are indoor items - tables, chairs, partitions, still present on stage. This takes away from plausibility. But Jonathan Haswell's cameras do a good deal to alleviate this problem and make the interactions fairly secretive and compelling. The Jean-Pierre Ponnell/Karl Bohm film, not actually a very good Figaro, nonetheless has the best Act 4 scenery wise, with a full garden and appropriate hiding areas.
When I want to watch a Figaro now, I will turn to this performance. My previous favorites (1994 Glyndebourne with Haitink, Finley (as Figaro), Fleming and Hagley, and 1994 Lyon with Paolo Olmi, Furlanetto, Szymtka and Watson) are excellent but this takes precedence, for its theatricality, vision and superb acting and ensemble.
Another inventive production from David McVicar
Toni Bernhard | Davis, CA United States | 05/21/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One strength of this Covent Garden production is that it puts equal emphasis on acting, stage movement, and singing (which only works when the latter is of high quality which it is here). Credit goes to David McVicar's directing for successfully combining all these features. He even uses the overture to highlight the class distinctions of the characters, as servants go about doing their work (and comically avoiding their work) in perfect time to the score.
Erwin Schrott, as Figaro, has a rich and deep baritone voice that literally booms out, but is flexible enough for the lyric demands of Mozart. He combines this with great acting. In fact, such is his focus on acting that he tends to speak his recitative. It sounds strange to the ear at first, but he has such a larger-than-life charismatic stage presence that, when combined with his superb singing, the speaking simply becomes Schrott's way of making the role of Figaro his own.
Miah Persson (Susanna) possesses a beautiful soprano voice, but she's not a natural comedienne and doesn't have a strong stage presence. The latter is only a problem because Susanna is the dramatic link to all the characters (another way of saying that she's really the star of the opera). I thought Persson was not quite up to the task. Mozart gave Susanna only one stand-and-deliver aria: "Deh vieni." Persson gives a beautifully nuanced performance of this exquisite song of hope and longing. She deserves the close-up camerawork she's given throughout the aria.
This is the second DVD featuring Dorothea Roschmann as The Countess (Salzburg's 2006 being the other). As always, her creamy soprano voice is rich and expressive. In particular, her "Porgi, amor" is performed with great pathos and is deeply moving.
Gerald Finley is excellent as The Count, appropriately brutish and dense at the same time. His baritone voice has deepened and matured since he played Figaro in the Glyndebourne production from 1994. His voice harmonizes beautifully with Roschmann's. Their work together in Act II is a highlight of the production.
The supporting cast is excellent, led by Rinat Shaham who sings Cherubino's two arias with exuberance and the sweetness of youth.
The major drawback to this DVD is uneven sound quality. It must have resulted from the placement of the microphones around the stage. There are times in arias and ensemble pieces when voices predominate but then suddenly fade away and all you can hear is the orchestra. It's very frustrating to listen to when this happens.
My favorite "Marriage of Figaro" on DVD remains the Theatre du Chatelet production conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, featuring Byrn Terfel as Figaro and Alison Hagley as Susanna. This is a matter of taste, but I prefer the more lighthearted approach of the Chatelet production, focusing as it does on the farcical nature of the plot (mistaken identities, etc.). This Covent Garden production focuses on the sexual tensions in the plot, resulting to a large extent from the characters' class distinctions. For example, Susanna's and Marcellina's brilliant first act duet, "Via resti servita " takes on a downright hostile tone in this production. I prefer the hilarious "trash talking" version in the Chatelet production. (Alison Hagley remains my favorite Susanna on DVD; she also plays the role in the Glyndebourne production from 1994 that features Gerald Finley as Figaro.)
I highly recommend this Covent Garden production and understand why many have given five stars to McVicar's more serious interpretation of this great opera."
3 hours of solid entertainment and wonderful music
"ETA: Thank you, Amazon, for clearing up the review mess.
Wonderful, funny and very well sung Figaro. Only small quibble is the sound quality which comes and goes. There are notable singer 'fall-outs' in act one and the act three sextet is slightly marred by a Curzio that is much too loud. It's not enough for me to subtract any stars from this review, though.
Schrott and Finley make the best pair of Figaro/Conte I've ever heard (or seen *ahem*) and I must admit to really liking Schrott's unorthodox way of singing. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it ends up working very well for him. This guy is just so energetic! Persson's Susanna is deliciously feisty and 'take-charge' - the character can often end up getting on my nerves - this one doesn't. Röschmann is a matter of taste, I think. She can definitely sing, but I'm not a big fan of the sound itself.
All in all this is one of if not *the* best Figaros I've seen or heard (despite the flaws in the audio) - in no small part thanks to David McVicar's wonderful stage directions - this guy really knows how to squeeze out every ounce of character from his ensemble. I've seen local and - to me - familiar singers (at the Copenhagen Opera) do things on stage that I would never have thought possible - if they've got it, he'll get it out of them."
Discovering new, non traditional and hidden dimensions of a
Francesco Alvarez | 05/02/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Before buying this DVD I was a bit reluctant of adding another version of this opera to my collection. There are far too many versions of "Le Nozze" on DVD, some of them remarkably good and some others quite bad and unbereable. However this new version of Covent Garden with the great David McVicar as stage director (remember Glyndebourne`s Giulio Cesare and Covent Garden`s Rigoletto) was very tempting for me to check. At the end I was not dissapointed at all, not only because the clever and dynamic staging of David MacVicar but also because the talented cast that sings beautifully and also knows how to act. Musical and stage direction combine perfectly well to convey the feeling that you are discovering new, non traditional and hidden dimensions of a well known traditional opera. It is particularly interesting the behind of the scenes in this DVD where David McVicar comments that all the action on stage is encoded in Mozart`s music. Indeed, once more (like I previously commented in the case of Glyndebourne`s Giulio Cesare) at times you get the feeling that the music was composed after the staging and no the other way around. To listen at this new version of Le Nozze is a great experience. Erwin Schrott`s voice is a strange melange of darkness and sweetness. Dorothea Roschman is great as always (I am a big fan of this soprano so probably my judgment is a bit biased here). Persson and Finlay are remarkably good as well in their respective roles as Susana (sweet and strong at the same time) and the Count Almaviva (mischievous and foolish at the same time). There is a great chemistry among the singers who are (obviously) having a great and relaxed fun on stage. Their characters are completely flesh out, something quite unusual in the opera world. This is not another version of Mozart`s Le Nozze di Figaro, this is a new multidimensional version of this traditional and beloved opera. Highly recommended indeed."
Worth having, but not as a first choice
D. DEGEORGE | Ellicott City, MD USA | 09/23/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First let me suggest you also see the reviews under the standard-DVD release of this production.
While it is impossible to say what is the greatest opera ever, "Le Nozze di Figaro" has to be in the running (critical consensus tends to favor "Don Giovanni" as Mozart's greatest, but I'm not so sure about that). In any case "Le Nozze" is hallowed ground for me. It begins with an overture that is a miracle of conciseness, quickly launching us into three hours in which each tuneful delight chases on the heels of another, a virtual non-stop fest of one hit after another! Of course it is a comedy, but it is so much more than that--almost an encyclopedia of human nature at its best and worst, and Mozart's music is the force that drives home all the joy and pathos that mere words and acting cannot; thus the music is so central that one must seek out the best performance possible, not because Mozart's music needs it--it can fairly well survive even indifferent renditions, but because it deserves the best. This means that the musical performance has to take precedence over everything.
In search of the best with which to stock my video opera library I have acquired three different DVDs of this opera. Of those three, this is neither the best nor the worst (avoid the 1973 Glyndebourne Festival Opera production Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro / Te Kanawa, Cotrubas, von Stade, Luxon, Skram, Fryatt; Pritchard, Glyndebourne Opera, which, in spite of its good reviews and all-star cast, is saddled with audio that I found simply unacceptable). The best was Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1977 movie Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), not a live production on an operatic stage. I knew that there was something missing musically in the other two, and so I felt that I should delve into my library of old videotapes in search of an excellent stage version to serve as a standard of comparison. I found the Met's storied 1985 production, also by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle with Kathleen Battle, James Levine, Carol Van Ness, Ruggiero Raimondi, Thomas Allen, and Frederica von Stade. I also should note that von Stade appears in the same role in that audio-challenged 1973 Glyndebourne Festival Opera production.
At the risk of prejudicing you against almost all other performances, I recommend your hearing the Met's production, which you can do on their Website; alas, it is unavailable for purchase as a DVD or VHS, as far as I am able to determine. I was a little surprised to discover that Levine had not yet honed the Met orchestra into one of the best orchestras in the world (although it was probably the best of all pit orchestras). The singing, however, is the best I heard of all the versions to which I listened, and the audio, while not great, was better than the 1973 Glyndebourne Festival Opera DVD. It is important to spell out in what way they are so good and how they differ from the less successful singers in this recent Covent Garden production. It comes down to these qualities: intensity, strength, fluidity, breath control, and creaminess of voice in addition to all the usual prerequisites of accuracy, quality of vibrato, and timing, to name a few. The women in the 1985 Met production, as well as in the 1977 Ponnelle movie were simply better in each of those aspects than those of this recent Covent Garden production. On the bright side, however, the men of this Covent Garden production are roughly equal to their Met Opera and Ponnelle movie counterparts, and I prefer Erwin Schrott's portrayal of Figaro to that of Raimondi, who seemed a tad menacing at times, even though his singing was certainly both agreeable and formidable. Ultimately the choice between these two Figaros (if DVDs of both were available) is a matter of personal taste.
Now for some more specifics: Except for a supercharged contribution by the tympani, the orchestra proved itself lackluster in the overture. Throughout the opera, however, the pacing was very good. There was a slight hint of historically informed "authentic" period performance, which I didn't find helpful, but not objectionable either. Along the same lines, I thought the ornamentation in Rinat Shaham's "Voi che sapete" was interesting and in good taste.
Miah Persson's (Susanna) voice lacked sweetness. Erwin Schrott was a handsome Figaro, and both were entirely credible as young lovers. Schrott has a strong, rich baritone, with excellent intonation and control. Both Persson and Shaham needed to have had more sostenuto to avoid choppiness. Gerald Finley was excellent as the Count; and Dorothea Röschmann was very good as the Countess; their duets proved the most satisfying of the production. The Countess was just a little disappointing in "Dove sono," however. I could see that the intent was to stay in tempo, but the sound was a little late in making it out of her mouth. Marcellina was the weakest of the main characters in the cast. Philip Langridge was a hoot as Don Basilio and sang well, too.
In addition to the quality of the singing, much of the musical success is determined by the tempi and pacing set by the conductor, who must decide when to let the music sigh and breathe and when to propel it forward, as appropriate to its many moods; nothing turns me off more than a reading that seems merely efficient. Antonio Pappano was not entirely successful in avoiding this pitfall.
Still, this is a handsome production, in terms of staging, video and audio reproduction, and packaging. Although the booklet does not provide a libretto, we are lucky to have any booklet at all--it's a crime how austerely some opera DVDs are packaged. The Blu-ray picture is gorgeous, not only sharp & very detailed, but also warm for a straight-to-video recording, almost simulating film but clearer and without grain. This is 1080i, but it is hard to imagine that 1080p could be any better. And all that clarity is well utilized in showing off the great sets and good looks of the cast. Because this is only a very good, but not great, performance, I recommend it only in this Blu-ray edition, where the visual delight compensates for some of its deficiencies otherwise. As the first or only video of Le Nozze I have to recommend the Bohm/Ponnelle movie with the dream cast and the Vienna Philharmonic.
Just because this is not the best of all performances does not keep it from being a worthwhile addition to one's library. As long as a performance operates on this high a level, there are always a few new things worthy of our attention, even in the performance; not to mention new sets and costumes and superior video & audio reproduction; but I don't recommend this as a first or only version; and I would be particularly concerned if this were one's first exposure to this masterpiece: although they would have had an enjoyable experience, they would go away without a clue as to what depths are possible.
Finally a couple of notes on the Blu-ray product itself: I thought I knew every counter-intuitive way the producers of Blu-ray discs had devised to thwart viewers' attempts to navigate the menus, but this one stumped me; I have yet to figure out how to complete the set-up and proceed to play the disc; instead, I had to have my player reset everything to its default (English subtitles and 5.1 Surround, which is what English-speaking audiences are most likely to want, anyway). Mercifully, it does not utilize the ever-obnoxious Java code that renders so many Blu-ray discs incapable of being resumed at the point you leave off, in the event you decide not to watch the entire disc in a single sitting. "