Le nozze di Figaro
Jesús López-Cobos, cond; Ludovic Tézier (
); Barbara Fritoli (
); Luca Pisaroni (
); Isabel Rey (
); Marina Comparato (
); Jeanette Fischer (
); Carlos Chausson (
); Raúl Giméz (
);Enrique Viana (
); Solidad Cardoso (
); Miguel Sola (
); Teatro Real O & Ch
TEATRO ROYAL TR97002DVD (DVD: 193:03)
Ideally, an opera overture sets the mood for us, although it sometimes serves the less lofty functions of quieting an audience or ushering in late arrivals. Modern technology has introduced yet another, still less lofty function. An opera overture now provides the DVD producer an opportunity to run cast credits past the viewer, replete with publicity photos and stills. If there is time left over, the cameraman has leave, as in the present case, to display a close-up of a kettledrum, while the principle musical element lies in the agile string playing of the Teatro Real Orchestra. One has the sense, in this live performance that the camera is watching the opera for us, and often directing our attention to things not particularly relevant, or things we’d prefer not to notice at all. For example I would prefer not to have my attention drawn, by means of a close-up, to the Countess’s throat undulating in perfect synch with her wavering pitch as she struggles through “Porgi Amor.” Close-ups are dangerous. They can bring to light vocal difficulties, seams in the costumes, the counterfeit quality of the sets, and add a good 10 years to the faces of most cast members. What appears opulent and miraculous in the segments filmed from the viewpoint of the theater attendee quickly vanishes during the arbitrary swooping and zooming of the cameras. The singers are at a disadvantage in an unresolved push and pull as they play sometimes to the audience, sometimes to the camera. A lens placed inches from the faces of the Almavivas allows us to read their significant exchange of glances in the marriage scene, but one notes that it would be entirely lost on the theater audience. Conversely, Susanna’s mischievous look as she plans a flying leap upon her future marriage bed in the first scene, obviously played to the house, is overstated vaudeville to the DVD viewer.
With visual grievances set aside, musical justice is done in abundance by a perfect cast for Mozart’s “perfect opera.” It is, of course, an ensemble opera, and the ensemble singing is superb. The contribution of every cast member is solid and satisfying both musically and dramatically. Luca Pisaroni stands out as the most beautiful voice, and his facile portrayal of Figaro’s many faceted character is admirable. Maestro Jesús López-Cobos’s conducting is expert, and often inspired. One might add that his conducting is “authentic,” as in Mozart’s time the work, the composer, and the performer took precedence over the conductor in contrast to our recent cult of personality figures like Karajan or Bernstein. López-Cobos is a fine craftsman as well as a fine artist and possesses a wonderful sense of tempo. For example the unfolding sequence of
s, which bring the second act to a close, is executed brilliantly.
Stage director Emilio Sagi sets his cast spinning in a charming and credible manner. One might raise an eyebrow, however, at his idea of the Countess, traditionally a heroic and noble personage, being transformed now and then into a buffa character. The comic elements of her eating a pastry with too much gusto after first refusing it, her being plumped and fussed over while her chair and footstool are being arranged, and her comical russet wig seem out of place. The flirtation with Cherubino under the close and unflattering eye of the camera gives the sense of her being a silly, aging matron making a fool of herself. If one knows the third play of Beaumarchais’s trilogy, one knows how wrong this interpretation is.
The sets, seen from the theater audience point of view, are quite elegant, and warm in color, though there are marked hints of austerity. Only a few articles of furniture occupy the large palace chambers. There is no chair for Cherubino to hide in during the first act; only an immense bed, which makes its point perhaps a little too obviously. The Countess’s bare chamber contains only a large bed, a tiny table, and a chair, engulfed in large expanses of floor space and unadorned walls. Austerity is the word of the day in Madrid just now, and it seems to have crept from the legislature to the stage, and finally to the orchestra pit, where horns are replaced by flutes. This is especially disappointing in the great
section of the act IV finale where Figaro is awaiting Susannah’s assignation with the Count.
Ultimately, the music is so great, so well played, so well recorded; the performers are so charming, the sets so imaginative, that one forgives the flaws; even the clumsiness of the camera. The opera is intact and its greatness compelling. In the filming of operas, technology has not had time to reach the artistic heights of its subject. With perhaps the exception of Bergman’s production of
opera still works only at the opera. If one can’t attend, and there are more and more reasons why one can’t, then DVDs might be the next best thing. Still, the gap between the best and the next best is as wide as the gap between the cylinder and the CD.