Le Nozze di Figaro
Damrau, Orsatti Talamanca, Bacelli; D'Arcangelo, Spagnoli; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Korsten. Production: Strehler. Arthaus Musik 101 589 (2 DVDs), 187 mins., subtitled
The availability on DVD of any production by Giorgio Strehler, even one recorded many years after it was new, is automatically a major event. But this film — a 2006 revival of Strehler's Le Nozze di Figaro from 1980 — is much more than a simple document of an important director's style. This is above all a heartfelt performance of a heartfelt masterpiece, and in the end Strehler's work is inseparable from the contributions of the conductor, designers and cast.
A representative example of the integration of elements comes with the Act III sextet. This piece may never have been performed with such a sense of a real situation — of real people working through things one point at a time. Conductor Gérard Korsten insists on a true andante tempo, and the singers know how each role fits into the larger picture. There is no slapstick or stylization, and the emotional release for the audience is all the greater for the length at which it has been earned.
There is an unusual overriding effect to this production — how much the two principal couples love each other. We expect this with Susanna and Figaro. She is the enchanting Diana Damrau, untiring in one of the longest roles in the standard repertory, and he is the thoughtful, watchful Ildebrando D'Arcangelo. But we don't expect to see the Count and Countess able to maintain, in spite of everything, an emotional connection. Marcella Orsatti Talamanca's youthful Countess is visibly unnerved by Cherubino's little serenade, relating it to her own situation. Pietro Spagnoli's Count is older and more cultured. (He likes to play the harpsichord.) He has the carriage of powerful men who wish they were taller. When he believes he has unjustly accused her of infidelity in Act II, he offers an abject, warmly sung apology — a true premonition of Act IV. The Countess never gives up on him, with the last section of "Dove sono" offered not in "if only" fashion but as a real moment of hope. Flirtatious in the letter duet, she shows us the woman the Count fell in love with. When he apologizes again in Act IV, he is so ashamed that he can only look at the ground until she answers.
But everyone in the cast plays a real person. Monica Bacelli's breathless Cherubino believes that everything happening to him is the most important event in the world. Gregory Bonfatti's Basilio insists on jumping into the action whenever there is "real" music in the story — he is the music master, after all — and Jeanette Fischer's Marcellina is capable of a good blend with Damrau in their duet. Bonfatti and Fischer have appropriate voices for their arias, which are included here, although hers gets an oddly optimistic interpretation.
Recitatives are lyrically, fully sung. The one after the dressing aria, one of the longest outside of the Baroque period, is timed like a play. Korsten is ever alert to piano markings, to great effect in the Act II finale, and to orchestral details such as the final notes in the Act I trio. He doesn't push tempos past the point of singability in the buffo moments. Gianni Mantovani's down-to-evening lighting design has not been modified for cameras, occasionally leaving characters in the dark. Designer Ezio Frigerio avoids the clichés of symbolic decrepitude or expressionistic off-kilter perspectives. Instead, the Almavivas' vast but undecorated spaces look forward to the couples who bought McMansions in the 1990s and then couldn't figure out how to furnish them.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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