This may strike some as heresy, but I'd like to go on record stating I think Looney Tunes master Chuck Jones is every bit the genius Mozart was, and about as musically astute. In the famous Bugs Bunny short Rabbit of Seville, Bugs and Elmer play out their manic feud to music culled from Rossini's Barber of Seville, with the final shot showing Bugs dropping Elmer onto a wedding cake labeled The Marriage of Figaro. Bugs slyly looks at the camera and winks, "Next!" That may just seem like another great Warner Brothers toon sight gag until you stop and realize that the source material for Barber of Seville was a comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais. Beaumarchais went on to write a sequel to Barber, casting many of the same characters decades later. The sequel was, of course, The Marriage of Figaro. Mozart adapted that piece into what has become one of his most revered works, a piece whose themes (or at least whose Overture) has filtered down to the unwashed masses as few pieces in the classical liturgy have. This splendid production directed by David McVicar makes the most of the opera's almost toon-like farcical elements, while doing the best it can with a libretto and plot that can only be politely termed a jumble.
To cull a reference from completely out in left field, for those of you unfamiliar with Le Nozze di Figaro, you may at least be aware of one plot element if you've ever seen the hoary Charlton Heston film The War Lord. While the two aren't completely relatable, there's at least a hint in Figaro of the old feudal custom of the sire of the manse having "first crack" as it were at any young maiden about to be married. That's just one element in this delightful comic romp, as the Count (the hero of Beaumarchais' original and Rossini's operatic adaptation of Barber of Seville) is now on the make for Susanna, his wife's maid. Susanna is betrothed to Figaro, but that doesn't stop one of the Count's pages, Cherubino, from at the very least appearing to make his own moves on her, which of course sets the Count off on a jealous rage. This is patently silly, opera buffa staple material, with mistaken identities, hidden parentage and, of course, a happy ending with all lovers ending up with their chosen ones by final curtain.
This is a surprisingly large scale production, with one of the hugest sets I've seen, one which magnificently recreates both the Count's palace and the sort of stable area where Figaro and Susanna plan to make their new home. McVicar, who in an extra states that the music in Figaro literally gives him stage directions as to how to mount the opera, stages an extremely fluid production here that makes the most of Mozart's effortlessly ebullient music. Erwin Schrott is an unusually athletic Figaro, almost a matinee idol of sorts, and Miah Persson makes a lovely and spunky Susanna. Antonio Pappano leads the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus with panache and some quicksilver tempi that highlight Mozart's filigreed accompaniments.
Le Nozze di Figaro, as so much in opera buffa, strains credulity to the point of rupture, but that really doesn't matter when you're confronted with such outstanding music and stagecraft. This is a piece where suspension of disbelief in and of itself is sort of silly to begin with--it should never even enter the picture as these characters are types, though Mozart through his gorgeous music manages to invest them with a surprising amount of heart and soul. The farcical elements are perfectly played here, on a stage filled with impeccable sets and costumes and some very smart direction.
This two disc set arrives with an excellent 1.78:1 AVC image that is sharp and extremely well detailed, with top notch color. A lot of this opera is bathed in beautiful ambers and golds, and the BD's support that spectrum beautifully. The details in the costumes and sets are revealed magnificently as well.
Both the PCM 2.0 and 5.0 mixes are excellent, if not quite up to the outstanding levels the OpusArte usually provides. The 5.0 is the superior choice here, with excellent separation and brilliant fidelity in both the orchestral playing and singing. While the 2.0 is just fine, it offers neither the space nor the balance that the 5.0 provides. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
I was momentarily confused by the title of a short featurette, "Stage Directions Encoded Into the Music." I thought it was a cool new BD feature incorporating directions from the libretto into the playback. Instead, it's a fairly routine 7 minute featurette offering interviews with McVicar and cast members. There's also the usual illustrated synopsis, cast gallery, and informative insert booklet.
Who knew opera could be this much fun? Silly, overstated, but filled to the brim with some of Mozart's most elegant music (music which clearly influenced Beethoven), this Figaro is a sterling production highlighted by gorgeous sets, costumes, singing and playing. Highly recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet