As Near to Perfection as I'm Ever Likely to See
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 10/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1973 production from the old Glyndebourne Festival theatre has as starry a cast as one could possibly put together at the time and strikes me as well above what passes for top-drawer these days. The cast is simply marvelous. Oddly, it includes a singer as Figaro that I'd never heard of before, one Knut Skram, and I was a little apprehensive about that. I needn't have been. He is a tall handsome 36-year old Norwegian whose bass-baritone is rich and whose acting is superb. He looks the part better and moves more nimbly than any Figaro I've ever seen. And he sings in his arias and ensembles with dash and musicality. As the for the rest of the cast just look who is in it. Kiri te Kanawa, in the first flush of her international stardom, as a Countess who is ravishing both in sound and in looks. Her 'Porgi amor' and 'Dove sono' are radiantly beautiful. Her resistance to the Count's bulldozing is both feminine and strong (not that those are contradictory qualities, of course). Her conspiring with Susanna is delicious. In the final scene, where she forgives the Count, she is noble. Indeed in that scene the entire ensemble right through to 'Corriam tutti' is splendid. Benjamin Luxon is a proper Count who is more than a bit of a rascal. He plays the bullying Lord believably but does not come across as an unlikable heel, and one feels there is the chance that he may indeed change his ways. He is in marvelous voice and acts well both physically and vocally. Mezzo Frederica von Stade has made a specialty of the role of Cherubino, and with good reason. She has both the figure and the voice for it. Add to that the ability to seem both callow and devilish and you have a combination perfect for the role. Her 'Voi che sapete' is perfection. The secondary roles are well cast, well acted, and very well sung. One couldn't ask for a better Don Basilio (John Fryatt) or Don Bartolo (Marius Rintzler of the cavernous bass and the wicked buffo ways; his 'La vendetta' is choice). Nucci Bondo makes a likeable Marcellina and she sounds good, too. Even the Barbarina and Antonio are well-done.
The singer who should come in for the most praise, though, is the young Ileana Cotrubas, who of course went on to major international stardom (she was one of the best Violettas I ever saw), and in this performance she not only sings like an angel, but her comic acting (and think of the timing that's required for the part) is in a league with a Carol Burnett or a Tracy Ullman. Her Act III duet with the count, 'Crudel! Perché finora,' demonstrates not only her superb singing (and Luxon's) but also her teasing way with him. Delicious!
In the pit is the ever-trustworthy John Pritchard conducting the London Philharmonic. The stage production was directed by the legendary Peter Hall. The video production was done by Humphrey Burton, a stalwart of these sorts of television specials, and it was directed with expertise by Dave Heather. The rather traditional, but quite beautiful, production design was by John Bury.
I do not own any other DVDs of 'Marriage of Figaro' and cannot compare this one with the ones available. I find myself not impelled to obtain any others, however. I must comment that the color and stereo sound are of their time, the early 1970s. These are certainly not a hindrance, but one does recognize that this is a classic production.
I predict I will be returning to this performance many times over the years.
1 DVD, TT=185 mins, no extras, subtitles in German, French, English, Spanish, Italian.
David Cady | Jersey City, NJ USA | 01/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a truly lovely jewel-box of a production that is a triumph of simplicity and traditionalism. "Concept" opera can work, don't get me wrong, but what a treat it is to sit back and wallow in the pleasures of a beautifully staged, designed and -- most importantly -- sung performance as this. There isn't a weak link in the cast. Particularly, Cotrubas may be the best Susanna ever, shining with an inner radiance that brings a smile to your face whenever she's on stage. And Te Kanawa is as beautiful as ever, her customary richness of tone and heartbreaking expressiveness solidly on display. The director has given the perfomance terrific pace and momentum (as does Pritchard in the pit) and has gotten his singers to be terrific actors as well. I was concerned that the picture quality would not be the best (given that this is 30 year old video), but it's clear as can be. The audio is less than wonderful at times (not too bad and not for too long), but that may simply be my copy. In any event, look no further if you want a "Figaro" for the ages, one that honors the intent and brilliance of its creators."
What a great performance
Erik Aleksander Moe | Oslo, Norway | 12/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production is a delight from start to finish. It has really great singing and acting from everyone.
I had the pleasure seing Knut Skram at the Norwegian Opera in Tosca and Flying Dutchman as Scarpia and the Dutchman and it was simply stunning. What a great actor and singer he is. His performance of Scarpia was his farewell performance, so the world won't be seeing him again on stage. Therefore we are so fortunate to have his Figaro on this performance. His great abilities as an actor is in full effect and his singing is top notch too. He has done so much on the Norwegian Opera's stage, practically every major baritone role in the German and Italian repetory.
Ilena Cotrubas is also totally great as Susanna. This has to be one of the most convincing performances of the role on DVD and record. Kiri Te Kanawa's Countess is also such a delight. It was just the beginning of a brilliant career and she proves here that she was the reigning Countess for the next couple of decades.
Benjamin Luxon was also extremely good as the Count. I had never heard of him before, but he had the appropriate mixture of noblity and arrogance making his plead for forgiveness at the end all the more effective. Frederica von Stade was also the most convincing Cerubino I have seen and heard. Her acting and singing alike are so much at the heart of the boy page who has hormones going all over the place. The Marcellina and Bartolo duo was also exceptionally good.
John Pritchard's conducting was so in tune with the great demands of Mozart's great opera, mixing great lyrical and comical moment perfectly. It was also a delight that the whole 4th act was done with both Marcellina's and Basilio's arias, which are normally cut.
The sound here is really good. It is presented in PCM stereo sound. The picture is also quite good. The colors are a bit too saturated, but it is very good considering that it is 30 years old.
This DVD is very highly recommended to all lovers of this great opera."
The best performance..but poor audio quality
B. Edwards | 09/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This surpasses the old Guilini set as the best Figaro on record, either cd or dvd.
Its hard to imagine a better Susanna than Cotrubas in her prime, a better countess than Te Kanawa in her prime, and a better Cherubino than Von Stade in her prime. The other parts are nearly as good, with Luxon shining as one of the best counts ever. I found Skram's Figaro a bit dull, but its a very steady performance nonetheless. Bartolo, Marcellina, Alfonso and Barbarina are all excellent.
Pritchard's conducting is very sharp and disciplined, the kind of conducting that one can listen to over and over and never tire of. It does not have the hushed sense of magic that Guilini often evokes, but at the same time is more straight forward and less self-conscious. The playing is for the most part, immaculate. The wood wind shine especially, which means alot in Figaro.
Its also well staged and filmed rather naturally and has another benefit of excellent subtitles and switching of camera's to help make sense of the text for those new to the opera. Of course there is so much wit and fast comedy in Figaro, not everything can be captured, but they manage to get alot in, much more than, for example, Haitink's recent Glyndebourne Figaro which has very vague titles and poor camerawork.
With all these plusses, the minor minus of Skram's mediocre Figaro hardly detracts from this magnificent issue.
There is unfortunately however, a rather major minus: the sound quality. The whole thing seems to have been recorded with a pair of mikes sitting in the orchestra pit and the resulting sound is strident, completely lacking in dynamics. It starts to tax the ear that everyone seems to be singing and playing at the same volume all the time, and the soundstage is very cramped. You might be able to work some wonders with equalization, but I found the sound a rather large blot on this otherwise top shelf favorite of all my opera recordings.
Nevertheless, when you see and hear Cotrubas in the part she was born to play, playing it to perfection, or Te Kanawa capture the sorrow and nobility of the Countess so meetly, or Luxon's lovely suave voice matching his guilefull looks so well,I think you will agree this is still one of the best opera discs out there."