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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze di Figaro

(Two discarded arias for Susanna, Un moto di gioia and Al desio di chi t’adora are added as an appendix)
Bo Skovhus (Count Almaviva), Marina Mescheriakova (Countess Almaviva), Judith Halász (Susanna), Renato Girolami (Figaro), Michelle Breedt (Cherubino), Gabriele Sima (Marcellina), Janusz Monarcha (Bartolo), Michael Roider (Basilio), Alexander Klinger (Don Curzio), Orsolya Sáfár (Barbarina), Peter Köves (Antonio),
Hungarian National Chorus, Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia, David Aronson (continuo)/Michael Halász
Recorded 26th October to 4th novembre 2002 at the Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary
NAXOS 8.660102-04 [3CDs: 71:54 + 61:58 + 52:48]


Overall praise rather than detailed criticism seems in order for this bargain basement Figaro, a totally enjoyable experience even if Bo Skovhus is perhaps the only "international" name (his Count is already available under Abbado with Cecilia Bartoli as Cherubino).

A common feature which emerges reading the biographies of many of the singers (Skovhus himself, Mescheriakova, Judith Halász, Girolami, Breedt, Sima, Monarcha, Roider) is that they have appeared regularly with the Vienna State Opera, so it seems we have here basically an ensemble performance rather than one assembled by the phone-book, albeit transported to a "cheaper" venue and with a "cheaper" (but thoroughly excellent) orchestra. This no doubt explains why we have a real performance, with the singers responding to each other and each fully aware of their character’s particular role in the story. Much care has been given to the pacing of the recitatives and all the singers give the Italian words a wholly believable cadence (though a slight touch of a non-Italian accent is sometimes noticeable). The only exception is Orsolya Sáfár in the small part of Barbarina; her recitatives are of the shopping-list variety, but she sings her tiny aria well. The singers are helped in all this by an alert and inventive continuo-player.

However, I do not wish with the above to belittle the achievement of Michael Halász, who extracts lively phrasing from the orchestra, sets convincing tempi throughout, balances the ensembles watchfully, and above all that sees that there is the right feeling of a complex, however humorous, human drama unfolding before us.

I hope Skovhus’s well-deserved reputation has not led me to listen with lazy ears, but it seems to me he is the outstanding member of the cast, with a certain vocal charisma which ensures that we hang onto his every word. His response to the text is very detailed, as befits a singer who also specialises in lieder, and the singing as such is always finely-toned.

The others maybe evince a smaller range of vocal colour, but each has been carefully chosen, with the right voice for the part – the four principal ladies are well contrasted, the Countess rich-toned, the Susanna somewhat soubrettish (but not too much) and the Marcellina sounds as if she actually could be the mother of Girolami’s rather young-sounding Figaro. This being a complete performance, she gets her aria, technically the most demanding in the entire opera, and brings it off very well. Many a Cherubino, however entrancing, sounds essentially feminine; Breedt’s husky tones could just about convince you this is really a young lad, and she makes the character rather more serious, almost sullen, than usual.

As the one Italian member of the cast, Girolami makes the most of his words; you may find him lighter-voiced than many Figaros, but in reality he should be a young man and he certainly makes a believable character, expressing finely his indignation and rage at the Count’s blithe assumption that his noble birth will allow him to do what he likes with Susanna. This performance reminds us that there is much criticism of social conventions to be found under the opera buffa surface of this work.

Roider offers a satisfyingly toady Basilio, but when his aria comes he leaves aside the caricature and sings well. He has a very light, reedy tenor which, apart from some Mozartian roles, would probably be most suited to operetta. The Bartolo is a splendid "basso comico".

The recording is very fine and clear. I suppose I should point out that the odd lapse in ensemble suggests that studio time may not have been generous, but perhaps the conductor preferred to record a real performance anyway. This is an unassailable bargain, and I wonder how many of the more expensive alternatives are really worth the extra money. As usual with Naxos’s opera issues, we get no libretto but this is partly compensated with a quite detailed synopsis.

Christopher Howell


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