Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Metropolitan Opera, 1985 (3)

(Previous section here.)

Possibly it’s because I haven’t listened to this opera in a while and so the orchestral parts had a feeling of novelty as a result, but it seemed to me that the balance in this recording was tilted towards the orchestra. I really love the way the orchestra talks in this opera.

But before I get to that, I should note that one of the things (in addition to the ossia that will not be named) I always end up noticing about this opera is the quality of Susanna’s fake guitar-playing (if it happens) in Act II. Here, Susanna is back toward the rear of the stage, so you can’t really see what she’s doing. But the best guitar miming that I have ever seen is that of Christine Brandes at a New York City Opera performance of Figaro in I think 2003: I was sitting close enough to the stage to tell, and I will swear that she was fingering all the right chords.

But anyway. Orchestral playing! I am an ex-violinist (twelve years of lessons . . .) and I love the sound of the violin, so violins are often what I end up hearing. I have “strings!” or “violins!” marked here and there all through my notes, and I think it would be tedious to go through and name each specific instance of fun, so I will say only that there are numerous instances of expressive string playing in this performance, and that you really feel the orchestral music interacting and commenting upon the vocal part. (The woodwinds get in on the action too, e.g in the overture and the opening scene.)

So. The overall impression that I get of this performance is that there is slightly more work and thought being put in to make this interesting, and give it a bit of edge, than the conventionality of the production might intially suggest. The grim interiors of the house, and Raimondi’s slightly angry Figaro – this production is conventional in some ways, but bland it is certainly not.

I was thinking the other day about if someone asked me to recommend a DVD of Figaro to someone who had never seen the opera, which one it would be. I think this one could be a contender, because the music sounds really good and the staging, despite all those scuffed-up pilasters, is not going to confuse or upset anyone. I’ve found that I have to listen to an opera quite a few times before I really begin to appreciate what is going on interpretively in any given performance – you kind of need a baseline, you know? And this is a performance that could be a very good baseline.

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