MOZART Le nozze di Figaro
Teodor Currentzis is the artistic director of the opera house in Perm, on the edge of Siberia. As reported in the January Gramophone, he is recording all three of the Mozart/da Ponte operas: Così fan tutte will appear next autumn, Don Giovanni a year later. The publicity material accompanying the new Figaro talks up the project in a big way, and Currentzis makes some astonishing claims. Modern performances don’t ‘approach the levels of precision and depth which are necessary to reveal the full richness of Mozart’s genius’. Really? In ‘Non più andrai’ the ‘crisp dotted rhythm…is usually “smeared” into triplets’? Not true, in my experience. The sparing use of vibrato, the inclusion of vocal embellishments, a prominent continuo: we are led to infer that Currentzis is first in the field. If it’s unreasonable to cite performances of this very opera in 1965 by Roger Norrington and the Chelsea Opera Group, or Charles Mackerras at Sadler’s Wells, let me at least point to the recording by René Jacobs.
That said, this is a lively performance, decently sung and conducted. Currentzis is much concerned with dynamic contrast, and there are many instances where the instruments are splendidly prominent: the horns in Figaro’s ‘Se vuol ballare’, for instance, and their pedal-point in the C major section of the Act 2 Finale. Elsewhere, as in the Count’s accompanied recitative after the fandango in Act 3, the effect can be noisily manic. Another of the conductor’s preoccupations is that ‘the vocal technique of the 20th century…lost all notion of the voices as a palette of tonal colours’. Here the Count is almost whispering as he makes his assignation with Susanna, and the Countess’s ‘Dove sono’ is a true soliloquy. Most effective of all is the Sextet, where all the characters – Marcellina especially – sound appropriately stunned at the revelation of Figaro’s parentage. The tempi are mostly well judged, ‘Porgi amor’ and ‘Deh vieni’ flowing nicely. But like most conductors, Jacobs excepted, Currentzis takes Susanna’s emergence from the closet much too slowly. Three cheers for the appoggiaturas, cadenzas and embellishments – the decorations in ‘Dove sono’ are charming – but Currentzis has missed the opportunity of adopting the variants to the Count’s aria that were probably composed for the Vienna revival in 1789.
The orchestra play on period instruments, the pitch – as on the Jacobs – nearly a semitone below the standard of today: this helps Maria Forsström, billed as a mezzo, to sing her aria without transposition. The multinational cast is led by the sturdy bass of Christian van Horn’s Figaro and Fanie Antonelou’s rounded, knowing characterisation of Susanna. What will, I fear, pall on repetition – and this is equally true of the Jacobs – is the hyperactive continuo. Flourishes before, during and at the end of secco recitatives (including a silly pun that glosses Susanna’s ‘Ecco!’ – ‘There you are’ – as an echo), and right-hand twiddly bits in the arias and ensembles; there’s no end to it. The recording is definitely worth hearing. But revelatory, groundbreaking, indispensable? Nah.