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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze di Figaro, K492
Pietro Spagnoli (Count), Annette Dasch (Countess), Rosemary Joshua (Susanna), Luca Pisaroni (Figaro), Angelika Kirchschlager (Cherubino), Sophie Pondjiclis (Marcellina), Alessandro Svab (Antonio), Antonio Abete (Bartolo), Enrico Facini (Don Basilio), Paulette Courtin (Barbarina), Serge Goubioud (Don Curzio)
Concerto Köln & Choeur du Théâtre des Champs-Elysées/René Jacobs
Recorded live Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris October 2001
Sound Format LPCM Stereo, DTS HD MA 5.1 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Regions A, B, C: Subtitles English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Japanese
Reviewed in surround
BELAIR CLASSIQUES BAC517 Blu-ray [182 mins]

This is a reissue of a video made in 2001 and first released on DVD only in 2007. This time around the recording has been remastered and reissued on DVD and for the first time the original HD film has reached Blu-ray, the subject of this review. Given this slightly complex history it is worth saying at the start that the HD sound and picture are top class. Aided by one of the cameras, the home listener is right at the centre edge of the orchestra pit with performers in front and the audience firmly behind. It is all most realistic.

This wonderful performance comes close to displacing my favourite period Figaro, the superb Sony 24/192 surround Blu-ray Audio conducted by Teodor Currentzis (and in passing may I express my sadness that Sony reneged on their implied promise to issue all three Da Ponte operas on BDA, the remaining two being on plain stereo CD, sheer marketing cowardice!) The present Blu-ray is of course a video production and thus adds a very significant aspect for opera, pictures. René Jacobs is a fine and very experienced Mozartian and from the first notes of the overture it is obvious all will be well musically. It is fortunate that the Stage Director Jean-Louis Martinoty, the Set Designer Hans Schavernoch and the Costume Designer Sylvie de Segonzac, all agree that this is an 18th century opera. I have never seen a better looking production or one more supportive of the libretto. It is not 'realistic' because the settings are only implied by a large number of hanging paintings rather than actual scenery.

Apart from musical and stage direction the other key aspect of a convincing operatic production is, rather obviously, the singers. In this respect Jacobs is a clear winner because the above cast are not only brilliant singers but all look totally convincing. It is a considerable relief to have, for example, a Countess who is young enough to challenge an equally appealing Susannah for the Count's affections (or should that be lust?) and a Marcellina who can walk the fine line between believing that she might be Figaro's wife, before discovering that she is in fact his mother. The Count too looks young enough to be a real love interest for the two leading ladies. Figaro himself is suitably youthful and has just the right degree of over-confidence. All this makes for a believable staging and one which it is a pleasure to watch.

The pit orchestra is the excellent Concerto Köln who are one of the many superb period bands on the music scene now. Jacobs has chosen to use a fortepiano as continuo keyboard, along with a prominent cello. This pairing contributes significantly to the recitatives which propel the complex action from the very start, though the fortepiano is not quite so manically active as Currentzis'. Beaumarchais' and Da Ponte's radical plot shines through this staging from the very opening. A very self aware Susannah knows precisely what the Count is after and mocks Figaro's naive belief that the Count is just being kind in offering such a conveniently close room to his own to the young couple for their married life to begin. The use of regular close-ups makes us very aware of the feelings of these characters. Indeed the home viewer is at an advantage over the Paris audience in being able to enjoy all this detail, but the cast's acting is very good and clearly convinces a packed Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Skilful acting is needed too in this busy production, for the stage is occupied by a lot of people at the various key moments, the ends of acts particularly, and no-one ever seems inactive however far they are away from the main events. The members of the chorus have much to do and of course there are eleven principle roles, each one advancing the plot to disgrace the Count in the eyes, especially, of his Countess, as well as show that things have changed and aristocrats cannot have it all their own way. This superb production has the sense to let the audience draw their own contemporary conclusions and does not feel it has to provide the silly props of modern reinterpretations.

What we have here is a performance one wishes one could have attended in the flesh but which withstands the close inspection of the cameras and microphones well enough to justify its purchase and repeated viewing. Mozart's Figaro is arguably the best opera ever written and this performance is one to be reckoned with even against the vast amount of competition. Besides, no one owns just one version of this masterpiece, do they?

Dave Billinge



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