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Gramophone, August 2011

An enchanting Susanna, her “constant companion” of the past decade, Miah Persson sparkles here in an intelligent period production.

Stephen Eddins, October 2009

The DVD of the Royal Opera House production of Le nozze di Figaro, directed by David McVicar and conducted by Antonio Pappano, can be recommended without reservation. McVicar’s sensitivity to Mozart’s musical cues makes his staging feel absolutely emotionally honest and believable. He has a marvelous cast of singing actors with the dramatic skill to draw the audience into their fascinating and socially complex world, and who create three-dimensional characters with whom it’s hard not to fall in love. Even the Count, who can easily be represented as an incorrigible cad, is portrayed as an intellectual, even reflective man who remains stuck embracing the questionable moral values with which he was raised, but who finally sees a new way. While he will certainly continue to struggle with temptation, this production gives us reason to believe that the Countess’ forgiveness may indeed be transformative, and that he may in fact have fallen in love with her again, and remain faithful.

The time period of the opera has been bumped ahead about 50 years, to the 1830s. The elegance and simplicity of Tanya McCallin’s traditional sets and costumes practically take your breath away, particularly in the Countess’ and Count’s rooms in acts II and III. McVicar brings the upstairs/downstairs element of the story to the fore, with a multitude of servants, who mostly regard their superiors with amusement or contempt, lurking and listening behind virtually every closed door. This makes the Countess’ position all the more poignant; every humiliation is painfully public. Dorothea Röschmann plays her as a desperate woman who’s seriously close to the end of her rope. Her voice may not have the ideal suppleness, but it’s warm and large, and she sings with an almost ferocious passion. Gerald Finley is vocally and (usually) dramatically splendid as the Count. It’s a characterization that’s memorably subtle, and his voice is resonant and rounded. His only shortcoming is that he fails to project the predatory sexual energy that characterizes the Count. Figaro gives Erwin Schrott a chance to show off his gifts as a natural actor and an effortless comedian, and he sings with flexibility and expansiveness—his is a larger-than-life Figaro. Miah Persson makes a completely fetching Susanna. She too, is entirely at ease dramatically, and her voice is radiant and beautifully modulated in its colors. As Cherubino, Rinat Shaham is very persuasively boyish, and she sings with disarming naturalness and high energy. All the supporting parts are brought vividly and memorably to life: Jonathan Viera as Dr Bartolo, Graciella Araya as Marcellina, Jeremy White as Antonio, Ana James as Barbarina, Francis Egerton as Don Curzio, and, especially, Philip Langridge as a marvelous Don Basilio. Antonio Pappano leads the Royal Opera Chorus and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a reading that is beautifully paced and lovingly shaped and balanced. This splendid version of the opera would make a fine introduction for newcomers and is likely to delight those who already know and love it.

American Record Guide, September 2008

As the overture plays, the stage fills with people: a housekeeper, a major domo, an army of servants. Stage director David McVicar likes to keep everyone busy in this 2006 performance from Covent Garden, even when it's unnecessary. The Count sings the last part of his aria to a crowd; the Act 3 sextet has more than six people on stage; Cherubino is drunk and reeling in Act 4. The Countess gets the spotlight for her two solos, but much of the time there's too much happening on stage.

I'm not really complaining, just reporting—despite the hyperactivity, I like this Figaro very much. The music is propelled with great spirit and sensitivity by Pappano; and the cast is lively, stylish, and photogenic. Shaham is an adorable Cherubino, though there's nothing special about her vocalism in the two arias. Persson is a lovely, dignified Susanna, tall and blonde, pure of voice, and often quite individual in her phrasing. Uruguayan baritone Erwin Schrott is a handsome Figaro, assertive with-out exaggeration. He never loses his shirt (either literally, which he's been known to do, or metaphorically), and he enunciates his words cleanly. Roschmann's Countess is on the earthy side, and she doesn't command the poised, floating lines of a Schwarzkopf or Della Casa, but she cuts a sympathetic figure. Finley's well-sung Count is the only over-the-top character, and it's a shame because he sings the part so smoothly. He's apoplectic from the start; he strikes the Countess viciously in Act 2, and you don't believe for a minute that he's going to change his ways in Act 4.

The supporting players are variable. Bartolo has no low notes; the tight, wobbly Marcellina doesn't deserve her Act 4 aria. Philip Langridge's Basilio does. His character, bad toupee and all, is oddly endearing. Francis Egerton is an unusually dignified Curzio. The staging is simple and inoffensive: an all-purpose unit set serves as the Countess's bed~ room, the Count's study, even the Act 4 garden. The costumes are more 19th than 18th Century. Audio and video are of excellent quality. If you want a DVD Figaro, you could do worse than this.

John Steane
Gramophone, August 2008

A perfect pairing (and everyone else is great, too) in a Figaro to join the best

Here is a Figaro to put with the 1973 Glyndebourne production placed among the top five operatic DVDs. Presiding in the pit is Pappano, sure of touch, and on stage, Erwin Schrott, a god’s-gift Figaro; he and his Susanna, Miah Persson, must be the handsomest pair in the world of opera. The producer is David McVicar who has thought of a thousand good ideas and only two bad ones (anon), with a team that has done the Royal Opera House proud. Count and Countess are distinguished and memorable, and I should say there’s not a member of the company (down to the well individualised servants) who does not contribute worthily.

Figaro and Susanna are very much the centre here, and we like them not only because they sing and act well but because they are sympathetic in a modern way. Or perhaps that is a way of saying that they given the kind of performance the camera likes: their energy is creditably youthful and spontaneous, and their facial expressions work largely through eyes and eyebrows. They deal in light ironies, delicate apprehensions. And both have voices ideally suited to their music, Schrott with richness and depth, Persson with freshness that is sharp-pointed to just the right degree. Dorothea Röschmann’s Countess is an unusually active, passionate woman, and her voice, which a few years ago would have been a natural Susanna, has filled out surprisingly. The Count’s is an unenviable role: nobody likes him, and by Act 4 he has begun to wear his “foiled-again” expression too often. Finley goes grim-faced from one defeat to another, singing like a true aristocrat all the way. Of the others, Jonathan Veira’s pop-eyed Bartolo deserves mention, straight from the pen of “Boz”.

The producer’s two misjudgements are (I think) letting the company enter halfway through the Count’s aria and cutting off at the end of what is normally Act 3 so as (presumably) to intimate a new seriousness in what is to follow. Maybe both work better in the house. They didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the DVD, and nor did anything else.

Gramophone, July 2008

Here is a Figaro to put with the 1973 Glyndebourne production placed among the top five operatic DVDs. Presiding in the pit is Pappano, sure of touch, and on stage, Erwin Schrott, a god’s-gift Figaro; he and his Susanna, Miah Persson, must be the handsomest pair in the world of opera. The producer is David McVicar who has thought of a thousand good ideas and only two bad ones, with a team that had done Royal Opera House proud. Count and Countess are distinguished and memorable, and I should say there’s not a member of the company (down to the well individualized servants) who does not contribute worthily.

Dave Paxton, April 2008

I watched David McVicar's production of The Marriage of Figaro on its first night at the Royal Opera House in 2006, and found it breathtaking, as I find it once again on this DVD.

McVicar's production probes deep into Mozart's masterpiece, correctly identifying the work's vital themes and bringing them out with crystal clarity and a good deal of wit. The opera is updated to 1830s post-revolution France; the chateau that holds the action is grand and clean-cut, but showing signs of neglect; the conflict between servants and masters is precisely elucidated in the characterful and accommodating setting. Sex is abundant, McVicar interlacing Mozart's tightly constructed web of relationships and intrigue with subtle, implicitly stated threads of sexuality. The action never seems overtly busy, but the chateau bustles with activity. It's exhilarating to watch, and the neatly choreographed buzz of stage movement provides both a blueprint and an oil painting of a society in gradual decline, its peoples happy to ride the wave down, enjoying themselves as they go, though ostensibly still existing under the rule of autocracy.

In Act IV, Mozart transports his action outdoors, from the constructed to the natural, in order that reconciliation between factors - men and women, masters and servants - can occur unrestricted, in all-seeing, all-forgiving nature. McVicar is ambiguous in his treatment of this last, vital act, trees and falling leaves present, but also furniture from the house: a writing desk, chairs knocked over. The result is messy and visually chaotic, suggesting both the in and the out, but very possibly this was the director's intention. Now, it is not so much that the characters must leave the old, failing order, by stepping from it, but that the order must be reduced to chaos - destroyed, laid bare to the elements - for forward progress to occur. If this is the director's intention, I rather wish that the effect had been achieved in an aesthetically neater manner. The sharp contrast between the handsome bare sets of the first three acts and Act IV's dark, object-strewn mess may make sense thematically, but visually, the result can be bathetic.

It is to the great credit of the vocal soloists, though, that tension is always maintained and that the pace stays bracing (an admirable feat, given that Act IV's 'cut' arias are reinserted). Top dog here is Gerald Finley, whose Count oozes suave, sadistic sexuality, as well as an aura of ominous, imposing power; the role could hardly be sung better either, Finley becoming tired near the opera's conclusion, but throughout producing a ringing, powerful and beautifully moulded sound. His Countess, Dorothea Röschmann, provides intense, focused vocal delivery, despite some occasional struggles in coloratura. Visually, the artist can look momentarily out of her depth, but she acts her heart out, easily winning one's sympathy and respect.

Rinat Shaham is an ebullient Cherubino; Philip Langridge is not in great voice, but his creepy Basilio provides endless humour and menace. Our Figaro and Susanna are Erwin Schrott and Miah Persson. Schrott delights in the character of Figaro, and is in rich, expressive voice throughout, even if one yearns, at times, for slightly more discipline in his singing. Persson, meanwhile, is not the most petite or characterful of Susannas, but her ravishing physical beauty, gloriously pure vocal delivery and feisty characterisation are to be reckoned with. The entire cast interacts brilliantly: there is, indeed, not one weak link, the evenly spread, dramatically convincing singing and acting vigorously illuminating this society's complex power struggles. Down below, Antonio Pappano conducts a light, bright and sparkling interpretation of Mozart's transcendental score.

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