Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro
Il Conte – Pietro Spagnoli
La Contessa – Rosemary Joshua
Figaro – Konstantin Wolff
Susanna – Sophie Karthäuser
Cherubino – Annett Fritsch
Marcellina – Isabelle Poulenard
Don Basilio/Don Curzio – Thomas Walker
Bartolo/Antonio – Marcos Fink
Barbarina – Lore Binon
Le Jeune choeur de Paris, Freiburger Barockorchester / René Jacobs.
Salle Pleyel, Paris. Friday, October 11th, 2013.
At the start of the year, I would never have imagined that by October I would have heard two quite exceptional performances of Le Nozze di Figaro not only amongst the best I have heard but also that brought to life the music in a way and a style that completely matched my own personal taste and the way I imagine the music to sound. I have mentioned before here that so much when appreciating music is down to personal taste. For me René Jacobs is the finest interpreter of Mozart’s operas I have had the pleasure of hearing. His recording of Figaro is definitely the recording that if I could only have one recording of anything in the world, the one I would go for. I have wanted for a number of years to hear Jacobs perform a Mozart opera live and to have the opportunity to hear him finally do so was a real privilege.
Before I go on to discuss the performance, just one small thing grated. I bought my ticket as soon as bookings opened and opted for a mid-tier category 3 ticket for EUR45. Sadly when I got to the hall, I found that it did not have a full view of the stage and that when the singers were placed stage left, it sounded as if they were off stage. There are a number of category 3 tickets in other zones but the system allocates tickets without giving purchasers a chance to opt for a particular section of the auditorium. Having made the effort to book right at the time of opening, receiving a seat that was quite frankly overpriced for its category was extremely disappointing. Yet, the performance was so incredible that five minutes in, I’d forgotten how bad my seat was and I was completely transported for the next three and a half hours that time just completely flew by.
One of the best things about today was that the score was performed absolutely complete. So it was possible to hear Marcellina’s aria wonderfully dispatched by Isabelle Poulenard rather than the acres of recitative that happen when it is cut.
The cast as a whole was excellent and certainly on a level to match the conducting and orchestral playing. In another context I might have impressed by Konstantin Wolff’s fluently-sung Figaro, it’s just that only a few days ago I had heard an outstanding one from Luca Pisaroni. Wolff sang the role well but I just missed the wonderful use of language that Pisaroni has. Sophie Karthäuser’s Susanna was really terrific. Her ‘deh vieni’ was perfection, beautifully done and she had real character in the ensembles. Pietro Spagnoli sounded more like a Figaro than a Count to me. His attention to the text was wonderful and his singing always elegant. Yet, I missed the kind of vocal glamour that someone like Keenlyside brings to the role. It was wonderfully sung and I would certainly like to hear Spagnoli’s Figaro at a future point.
Rosemary Joshua’s Countess was glorious. I’m not sure I’d like to hear her sing the role in a big opera house the size of the Met for example but in a hall with a relatively sympathetic acoustic and period instruments it was wonderful. The voice had silvery beauty and her ‘dove sono’ was the finest I’ve heard since her compatriot Rebecca Evans. What really made the performance special to me was the use of ornamentation. It really abounded in this performance (something that was not the case earlier this week) and it really brings the work to life. Annett Fritsch’s Cherubino sang a delicious ‘voi che sapete’ which, with the ornamentation, really made it feel like Cherubino was creating it there and then.
I really enjoyed Thomas Walker’s bright, lyrical tenor as Basilio and Curzio and he really made the most of having his aria. Marcos Fink was also a terrific Bartolo and Antonio.
The Jeune Choeur de Paris offered some wonderfully bright tone to join the terrific playing of the Freiburger Barockorchester. They played like heroes, no detail was left behind and the playing was immaculate. It was quite simply flawless. They also coped with some incredibly swift tempi. Indeed, Jacobs kept the work constantly moving which meant that it never ground to a halt and we were thrown in the chaos and excitement of the Almaviva household.
This was a great achievement and left me so completely happy at the end. This is to me what is wonderful about Figaro, it has joy but it also has tragedy. Having had the opportunity to hear two exceptional performances in the course of a week has made me so very happy.