Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Grandly, sentimentally perfect music

My first impression of Yannick Nézet-Séguin's Figaro, released last month, was very positive, and listening more closely to favourite arias and ensembles, I found myself enjoying it even more. I loved the verve of the overture, the use of a fortepiano in the recitatives, the fine singing of the all-star cast, and the geniality of the whole affair. I've been watching a fair bit of opera on Blu-ray, which doesn't quite offer the same immersive experience of the real thing in the opera house, but which engages the senses in a very particular way. Sitting back and listening to this new recording with my eyes closed, I felt a real sense of flow, of the dramatic back and forth of a work I know pretty well after all these years.

I'm also feeling positive about this version because I'm still disappointed in the Harnoncourt set of Mozart-Da Ponte Blu-rays I reviewed earlier this week, and this production delivers where that one didn't. I felt Harnoncourt's Figaro was dullish, with the one real bright spot being the sparkling performance of Liliana Nikiteanu as Cherubino, but that was partly because of the dim lighting and lifeless direction by Jurgen Flimm. Nézet-Séguin only has to deliver on the audio side here, of course, though from the video you can sense the energy, deep feelings and fun from everyone involved.

This really is a first-class cast. Speaking of energy, Rolando Villazón really pops! in the small role of Basilio, as he does in the video talking with Nézet-Séguin. It looks like he maybe really pops! when he eats his cereal at breakfast. Thomas Hampson is magisterial as the Count, with Luca Pisaroni is a great match as Figaro. Both seem completely at home in these roles, and in tune with each other, and with their conductor.

I was pleased to hear their praise, in a later webisode, for the production team, since sometimes singers (other musicians as well, I suppose) take all of the credit for a fine performance, and look elsewhere when things don't go well.

The women are no slouches either. Sonya Yoncheva is so incredibly touching as the Countess. Christiane Karg is strong as Susanna. Anne Sofie von Otter, another star, like Villazón, cast in a small part, is naturally very fine as Marcellina. Angela Brower as Cherubino doesn't perhaps have the same oblivious panache as Nikiteanu, but she's still nevertheless very fine and very fresh.

Much credit for the success of this production has to go to the musicians of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Though they're a relatively small group in support of this group of powerful voices, they deliver power when required, and their wide range of expression is matched with corresponding control. Everything comes together in the great ensembles, great singing and great playing. Listen to Mozart's grandly, sentimentally perfect ode to the transcendence that sometimes comes in this imperfect life:

It's primarily Nézet-Séguin's vision we hear in this music, though, and it's clear to me that Deutsche Grammophon's confidence in the young Canadian's potential is clearly bearing fruit. I'm positive that the Metropolitan Opera's similar bet on his future will do the same.

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