The Marriage of Figaro

Le nozze di Figaro

The Countess – Annette Dasch
Susanna – Rosemary Joshua
Figaro – Luca Pisaroni
The Count – Pietro Spagnoli
Cherubino – Angelika Kirchschlager
Marcellina – Sophie Pondjiclis
Bartolo / Antonio – Antonio Abete
Basilio / Curzio – Enrico Facini
Barbarina – Paulette Courtin

Chorus of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

Concerto Köln
René Jacobs

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 29 June, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

What a splendid evening this was: a performance of Le nozze di Figaro that sizzled, scintillated and twinkled. As Peter Branscombe wrote in his review in “International Record Review” of René Jacobs’s recording for Harmonia Mundi (with an almost entirely different cast): “allegros sparkle without ever seeming rushed; singers are permitted breathing space for cadences in their arias”. Actually, Jacobs took the Countess’s “Dove sono” very slowly, but more of that anon. Recitatives were treated to an inventive accompaniment. Was the player Nicolau de Figueiredo (carelessly his name was omitted from the programme)?

Everybody contributed to a thoroughly delightful three hours of wonderful music-making, and all, singers and orchestra, seemed to be enjoying themselves. Utterly to be commended was Jacobs’s decision to bring tasteful decoration to some of the arias and to include those of Marcellina and of Basilio. In an essay in the programme he states that those two arias are often “accused of holding up the action (which is what Da Ponte and Mozart wanted)”. Certainly as sung by Sophie Pondjiclis (a very young Marcellina) and Enrico Facini respectively they contributed to the pleasures of the evening.

In fact, there was no weak element in the cast. I had never heard Annette Dasch before but certainly wish to do so again. Her breath-control in “Dove sono” was remarkable: I was almost breathing on her behalf, although she was sometimes under the note. The voice had a bright (not harsh) tinge, sufficiently darker than that of Rosemary Joshua, whose Susanna came freshly minted, full of humour and vivacity. Her light but not tweety tone was ideally suited to her character, and she played convincingly with and against the young Figaro of Luca Pisaroni.

All four men were Italians. Pisaroni, tall and slim, matched Joshua in his physical reactions (all sung from memory, and there was movement across the front of the stage). His fresh voice, a bass with an easy top, was flexible enough to negotiate Mozart’s music without huffing, puffing or mugging and he varied it as the situation demanded. Like Dasch, Pondjiclis and Paulette Courtin (the spry and sweet-toned Barbarina), he appeared to be still in his twenties. Antonio Abete clearly articulated the patter in Bartolo’s “La vendetta”, his voice moving easily, and his reactions, in both the roles that he undertook, were amusing. Also double cast was Enrico Facini, now a worthy character tenor. An experienced performer, Facini refrained from sending up either Basilio or Curzio, thus contributing to the overall high standard, and he sang his aria intelligently.

It can be argued that Count Almaviva is the most interesting, because the most multi-faceted, of them all. I found Pietro Spagnoli’s assumption fascinating. A handsome 40-year-old, Spagnoli exuded a seeming mixture of aristocratic intractability and general mystification: unwilling to accept any opposition or insubordination but not quite able to work out just what is happening around him. His firm, focused baritone was pliant enough to enable him to sing those difficult little notes in the last few lines of “Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro”.

Plaudits and thanks therefore to René Jacobs for his interpretation and approach. The 36 players of Concerto Köln responded well to his direction; their contribution was an estimable one.

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