The 2009 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro from Madrid’s Teatro Real had me doing a bit of a double take. It’s all pouffy wigs, breeches and heaving bosoms. In fact it’s so traditional that it wouldn’t be out of place in Winnipeg or Omaha but comes as something of a surprise in a major European house. In the “Making of” feature, included as an extra, director Emilio Sagi suggests that the opera is so “perfect” that only a “hyper-realist” approach is appropriate. It’s an interesting idea but “hyper-realist” here turns out to mean a bunch of established opera conventions that bear as much of a relationship to “reality” as, say, a James Bond film does. There is one minor directorial intervention. A air of buxom extras appear in almost every scene. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps they are the Wonderbra of the production as their sole purpose seems to be to uplift the cleavage quotient. For the record, the piece is presented uncut so Basilio and Marcellina get their big arias in the last act. The traditional approach, I know, has its adherents. I’m not one of them. I could have used a few ideas!
With such a production it’s pretty much all about the performances and here they are pretty mixed. Luca Pisaroni produces a convincing and very well sung Figaro; more elegant than some, and is perhaps the best thing here. Isabel Rey’s Susanna is problematic. She was 43 when this was recorded and looks and sounds at least that. This isn’t helped of course by the close ups in a video recording. My impression was that this was a role she should have retired a few years earlier. I also found her upper register rather metallic but that to some extent is a matter of taste. Ludovic Tézier is a rather genial count. One can more easily imagine him as the Almaviva of The Barber of Seville than the rather threatening figure we usually get in the “later” work. He sings well enough though. Barbara Frittoli’s countess is quite successful. It has the necessary bitter-sweet qualities and she nails the two big arias. Marina Comparato’s Cherubino seems a bit anonymous though there isn’t much wrong with it. All the minor roles are done competently with a particularly pleasing cameo from Soledad Cardoso as Barbarina. Jesús López Cobos conducts a conventionally competent reading of the score.
No video director appears to be credited but whoever it was did a good job. The massiveness of the sets is well conveyed and there aren’t any silly gimmicks. In fact the relatively “wide screen” approach rather tries the picture quality at times on DVD even though it was filmed in HD. Definitely a case for going for the Blu-ray here. The DTS surround sound is accurate and well balanced. The only extra is the aforementioned “Making of” feature. The booklet contains an essay, a synopsis and a track listing. Subtitles are English, Spanish, Italian, French and German.
It’s hard to recommend this recording. David McVicar’s Covent Garden production is surely traditional enough for anyone and that features better direction and better performances across the board. If “traditional” isn’t your bag the Guth Salzburg version remains fascinating even on multiple repeat viewings.