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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze Di Figaro - Opera buffa in four acts (1786)
Susanna, maid to the Countess - Patrizia Ciofi (soprano); Figaro, manservant to the Count - Giorgio Surian (bass-baritone); Count Almaviva - Lucio Gallo (baritone); Countess Almaviva - Eteri Gvazava (soprano); Cherubino, a young buck around the palace - Marina Comparato (mezzo); Marcellina, a mature lady owed a debt by Figaro - Giovanna Donadini (soprano); Don Basilio, a music-master and schemer - Sergio Bertocchi (tenor); Don Bartolo - Eduardo Chama (bass); Barbarina, Eleonore Contucci (soprano); Antonio, the gardener - Gianluca Ricci
Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Florence/Zubin Mehta
rec. live, Teatro Communale, Florence, October 2003
Stage Director: Jonathan Miller
Set Designer: Peter J Davison Costume Designer: Sue Blane Director of the Stage Production: Massimo Teoldi
Video Director: Maria Paola Longobardo
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1. DTS 5.1.
Picture Format: 16:9.
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish
ARTHAUS MUSIK 107 277 [2 DVDs: 181:00]

Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro is widely regarded as among the greatest operas ever penned. Designated opera buffa, it is based on the second of Beaumarchais’ trilogy of plays set around Count Almaviva. It reflects a superb collaboration between composer and librettist, in this case Lorenzo Da Ponte, a man surely unique in the annals of music. Propitiously, he arrived in Vienna at the turn of 1781-82. This was a year before the Emperor restored Italian Opera to the Imperial Theatre, the Burgtheater. The Emperor appointed Da Ponte Poet to the Imperial Theatres thus giving him easy access to his august and all powerful employer.
In relatively liberal Paris, Beaumarchais’ play was, for many years, considered too licentious and socially revolutionary for the stage. In ultra-restrictive Vienna it was viewed similarly, even after the more liberal Emperor Joseph II had come to power on the death of his mother. Da Ponte used his access to the Emperor to get permission for Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaroto go ahead. He achieved this on the basis of it being an opera and not the already banned play. This necessitated some of the more political and revolutionary aspects of the play being toned down, particularly an inflammatory act five monologue. This was replaced by Figaro’s act four warning about women which greatly pleased the Emperor.
The present production was originally staged by Jonathan Miller, in Florence, a decade before this filming. He is shown as Director whilst Massimo Teoldi is identified as Director of the Stage Production. Does this imply that Miller came back to refresh his own production or that in his absence Teoldi acted as what should be termed, I suggest, revival director? The booklet essay sheds no light on this issue nor does the Florence Opera web site. Whilst on the niggles, the booklet cast-lists perpetuate the errors of the earlier issue on the TDK label in showing Barbarina as sung by Carlo Bossi. In Italy Carlo is a male name and in fact he sings the excessively stuttering notary Don Curzio, whilst the role of Barbarina is delightfully taken by Eleonore Contucci, complete with the appropriate delightful physical denials of masculinity. The production is costumed in period. The set for the first three acts is in period and wholly appropriate to the plot and its setting in the Almaviva household. The disappointment is the act four Garden Scene. Large concrete pillars are the substitutes for any shrubs or trees and these barely conceal the people that are supposed to be absent or incognito. In this Spartan setting there is no chance of a realistic dénouement.
Whilst Miller invests the basis of his production with the overt sexuality of the play, as the composer and librettist intended, many of those details are not realised in this casting. The rather turgid Figaro of Giorgio Surian looks somewhat older than Giovanna Donadini who is revealed as his mother Marcellina. Surian certainly tries to project the revolutionary side of Figaro, even eyeballing the Count, but as Susanna’s intended he fails abysmally. I guess she might have had a more interesting first night of married life with the more virile-sounding and younger-looking Count, sung with good tone and acted well by Lucio Gallo. He has gone onto greater things since 2003 and his acting and vocal projection here is a big plus. Of the rest of the men, Eduardo Chama as Bartolo looks and initially acts somewhat geriatric. He sings his aria well and gets a bit more enthusiastic about his lot, even frisky, when marriage to his sometime lover is scheduled alongside that of Figaro and Susanna. Sergio Bertocchi is suitably smarmy as Don Basilio while Gianluca Ricci as Antonio the gardener overdoes the drunkard tipsy bits. Neither Basilio nor Marcellina get their act four arias.
Overall the ladies are a better kettle of fish than the men. Patrizia Ciofi as Susanna is not the pert dolly servant of many productions, being significantly better costumed and even with headgear. She rather overdoes the facial reactions with the furrowed brow overworked. Her singing however is a delight, including tasteful decorations to her act four aria. Eteri Gvazava as Countess Almaviva, and the only non-Italian in the cast, could have done with a few of Cioffi’s facial expressions. She manages to portray more of the character’s anguish and pain in the last two acts including a well pointed and phrased Dove Sono. Whilst looking a little feminine in the face Marina Comparato is a star Cherubino in the singing stakes alongside her well acted portrayal. Eleonore Contucci is a worldly-wise Barbarina as befits the role.
The colour of the whole production and costumes reproduces superbly on my Blu-Ray player and the sound is excellent too. On the rostrum Zubin Mehta takes a distinctly languid approach. It would have benefited from some of the brio and vitality evident on Pappano’s recording of the 2006 production at London’s Covent Garden (Opus Arte OA0942D/OABD7033D), which is at the top of my list among the many recordings of this ever-popular great operatic masterpiece.  

Robert J Farr