Mozart-Le Nozze di Figaro (Théâtre du Châtelet) (1993) (NTSC)
|Year Of Production||1993|
|Running Time||167:54 (Case: 169)|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (93:33)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||None Given|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Pamela Helen Stephen
|RPI||$36.95||Music||Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.70:1|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.70:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
In 1775, Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais had a considerable success with his play Le Barbier de Séville, the comic adventures of the barber Figaro. A highly successful opera was written by Giovanni Paisiello based on the text, though that work is largely forgotten today in favour of Rossini's version written many years later. Because of the success of the play, Beaumarchais conceived what we would today call a sequel, La Folle Journée, which translates as The Crazy Day. The subtitle of the play was Le Mariage de Figaro, and it is by this name that it is better known today. Completed in 1780, it would not be performed until 1784 and was widely banned across Europe.
The reason for the ban was the revolutionary content of the play, which upset not only the censors but King Louis XVI as well. The aristocrats in the play are shown in a very poor light, with Figaro trying to prevent Count Almaviva from asserting his 'feudal rights' over Figaro's fiancée Suzanne. In the end the Count is forced to kowtow to Figaro. This might seem fairly tame today, but in 18th Century France, on the verge of a bloody revolution, it was incendiary.
While the bans on performance of the work in most of Europe were in force in the 1780s, copies of the play circulated widely. In 1785 the official poet of the theatre of the Viennese court, Lorenzo da Ponte, and court composer W. A. Mozart were looking for a subject for the first of their three operatic collaborations, and found it in this play. Some changes were made to the text which reduced the objectionable aspects, but the work, the bulk of it written over a six week period in late 1785, retains most of the original play. Perhaps being sung in Italian reduced the unsavoury aspects for the Viennese court.
The opera premiered in 1786, was a big success, and remains a staple of the repertory today. Da Ponte and Mozart would collaborate further on Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte, and these three works are generally regarded as the finest of Mozart's writings for the stage. There are many musical highlights throughout, and the opera does not seem to be too long by a note.
The present performance was recorded in 1993 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in front of a live audience, though thankfully they are fairly quiet throughout. The orchestra is the English Baroque Soloists playing on authentic instruments of the period and conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. We first see them as the opera begins, playing the overture whilst on the stage (obviously not recorded at the live performance). The performance, like many historically-informed performances, is faster than normal. This opera would usually run more than three hours.
The star of the show is Bryn Terfel as Figaro, but he does not overshadow the performances of the rest of the cast, including Alison Hagley as Susanna, Rodney Gilfrey as Almaviva and Hillevi Martinpelto as the Countess. The staging is a little unusual in Act One in that the room only consists of three walls, with the countryside visible around. However, the music is so well played and the singing good enough that I tended not to notice the idiosyncrasies of the production. I have also seen a video performance from the New York Metropolitan, with Terfel reprising his role but this time supported by Cecilia Bartoli and Renée Fleming, but even with this stellar cast it does not supplant the present version. Quite enjoyable and well worth the small outlay. Purists should note that the order of some of the numbers in Act Four has been changed, as is explained in the accompanying booklet.
Figaro and Susanna are about to be married. However, Figaro learns that his master, the randy Count Almaviva, wants to reinstate his feudal right to take the bridegroom's place on the wedding night. Figaro is determined to prevent the Count's evil scheme. Meanwhile, Bartolo wants Figaro to meet his debts (which he cannot otherwise pay) by marrying his ageing housekeeper Marcellina.
The Count is upset with the equally randy Cherubino because he has caught him with the gardener's daughter. Music teacher Don Basilio suggests to the Count that Cherubino has designs on the Countess, which naturally infuriates the Count. Finding Cherubino in the room, he orders him to join his regiment in Seville.
The Countess plots with Susanna and Figaro to punish her husband by arranging a tryst between Susanna and the Count, but sending a disguised Cherubino in Susanna's place. Cherubino turns up and the Countess and Susanna dress him up in women's clothes. Susanna steps out to find a ribbon, at which point the Count arrives. Cherubino hides in the closet. The Count does not believe the Countess' story that it is Susanna in her bridal gown in the locked closet, and goes off to fetch some tools to open the closet door, taking the Countess with him to prevent her from letting what he thinks is Cherubino escape. He locks the door behind him. Susanna, who is hiding behind a screen, lets Cherubino out and he escapes through the window. Susanna hides in the closet, the Count returns and the Countess is vindicated. Just then the gardener turns up complaining about the damage to the garden by Cherubino jumping out the window. Figaro announces that the wedding is ready to take place, and then must pretend that it was he and not Cherubino who jumped from the window. The Count is not convinced, even when Figaro pretends to have a sprained ankle. Just when things seem to be going our hero's way, Bartolo and Marcellina arrive with a court summons for Figaro to pay up, enabling the Count to delay the wedding.
Susanna arranges the tryst with the Count, but he grows suspicious when he sees her talking to Figaro. Figaro discusses his birth, which prompts Marcellina to realise that Figaro is in fact her long-lost son by her master Bartolo. The Countess and Susanna write a letter to the Count and seal it with a hatpin. They give it to an unwitting Figaro to give to the Count. The Count pricks his finger on the hatpin. Figaro picks up the dropped hatpin.
The garden at night. Figaro finds out about the tryst between the Count and Susanna, which prompts him to reflect on the constancy of women. He overhears Susanna (now dressed as the Countess) discussing her love for Figaro with the Countess (dressed in Susanna's clothing), but thinks she is talking about the Count. Cherubino arrives and tries to chat up the Countess, but then the Count arrives, Cherubino runs away and the Count mistakes his wife for Susanna. Figaro realises the deception and pretends to woo the Countess (who is really Susanna in disguise, remember). The Count is enraged and calls everyone to witness his vengeance, but when the real Countess appears he is chastened.
The opera is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.72:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.
According to the booklet, the production was filmed in a high definition television system with 1250 lines. All the more pity then that it is so lacking in clarity. Being in NTSC format and not 16x9 enhanced seems partly to blame, but throughout the running time it is slightly fuzzy and not at all sharp. Contrast levels are acceptable, though the usual low light levels in live recordings mean that the action in Act Four is quite dark, with some poor shadow detail.
Colour is not perfect either. There are some bright colours, especially in Act One, but these are never pure or clean in appearance. Flesh tones look a little on the red side, and not quite lifelike. Blacks are never entirely solid.
There are a few video artefacts in evidence. During Act Four I could see plenty of chroma noise in the blue backgrounds. There is also some flaring on brighter objects. There are no film artefacts.
Optional subtitles are provided in several languages, and are off by default. These are from a translation of the libretto by Lionel Salter and are very good, easily read and well-timed.
The disc is dual-layered, with the layer change perfectly placed in the break between Acts Two and Three at 93:33.
The sole audio track is Liner PCM 2.0 stereo.
This is an excellent recording, with the rasp of the period instruments well captured. The voices are placed forward in the mix but do not overwhelm the orchestra. The voices are well recorded in that despite considerable movement across the stage they remain at a similar level throughout and nothing is missed, including the thumping of feet on the stage, which gets annoying sometimes.
The recording has some presence and a realistic sound stage is evident, even if it does not always match the camera position. I noticed occasionally that a singer was placed to the right of the camera frame, but the voice was to the left of the soundstage as they were on the left of the stage itself.
|Surround Channel Use|
A 38-page booklet contains cast listings, recording details, track details, a lengthy synopsis, and a short essay by the conductor explaining the changes in Act Four. It is repeated in German and French, plus there are some cast photographs.
This shows the covers of 17 releases on the Deutsche Grammophon label.
A webpage with links to the Deutsche Grammophon and Universal Classics webpages is included on the disc.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This NTSC all regions disc is the same as that released all over the world, so there is no reason not to shop locally for it.
A very good performance of this perennial favourite.
The video quality is a little disappointing.
The audio quality is excellent.
There are some minor extras.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Main: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175|