This recording is especially notable because it documents the 1994 Glyndebourne Festival debut of Renée Fleming. Her portrayal of Countess Almaviva had already become a signature role by that time: in 1991 she had debuted at both the Met and San Francisco Opera as Countess Almaviva to great acclaim. By the end of the 1990s Fleming had arguably become the leading soprano, with regular performances at the major operatic venues, numerous television appearances and a spate of successful recordings. Artistically, she has hardly declined since that time, her exquisite voice showing few signs of wear and her dramatic skills remaining impressive as ever.
In this Glyndebourne performance of Mozart's comic masterpiece she is brilliant throughout, her voice utterly disarming in its creamy tones and soaring beauty. You wish her role could somehow be expanded, considering the fact the Countess does not appear until the Second Act. Her opening number, Porgi amor qualche ristoro, is so beautifully sung it is hard to imagine it performed better. Her passionate Third Act aria E Susanna non vien!…Dove sono i bei momenti nearly brings the house down. Fleming even makes her recitatives come alive, not least because of her acting prowess.
Good as Fleming is, however, her performance is not the only one of note on this recording. Canadian baritone Gerald Finley, who was relatively new on the scene at the time of this production (he wouldn't make his Met debut until 1998), makes a splendid Figaro. Try his spirited and witty Act I closer, Non piu andrai, farfallone amoroso. In fact, Finley is in fine voice from the opera's opening, the duetto Cinque…dieci…venti. He is joined in that number by Alison Hagley as Susanna, whose voice has a beauty and pleasantness of its own. Moreover, her dramatic grasp of the role is very impressive. Hagley's antics near the end of Act II (when Cherubino escapes through the window and jumps to the garden below) are hilarious.
Speaking of Cherubino, Marie-Ange Todorovitch is excellent in the role: try her splendid Act II aria Voi, che sapete. The rather somber Count Almaviva is deftly portrayed by Andreas Schmidt. Try his brilliant Third Act number Hai già vinta la causa…Vedrò mentre io sospiro. Schmidt succeeds in making this rather humorless character almost charming, which is no mean feat. Ensemble numbers throughout the opera are splendidly sung, as evidenced by the lovely Second Act trio Susanna, or via sortite and the several ensuing numbers that close out that act.
The production is a traditional one, with period costumes and with sets that, while modest, are quite fitting. For a 1994 recording this Blu-ray has very vivid sound reproduction. More than a few recordings made well after the turn of the new century don't sound as clear and balanced as this one. Only the 4:3 aspect ratio dates this recording a bit, but the camera work and other visual properties are on a high level. As the reader can see I've supplied a fairly extensive cast list in the heading above, despite the odd decision by Warner Classics to provide only the four lead roles in their cast list on the back of the album case.
As for alternatives on video, in 2004 I reviewed an Arthaus Music DVD of Le Nozze di Figaro (Arthaus Music 101089) and found it quite an excellent effort, not least because of its trio of female superstars (Kiri Te Kanawa as the Countess, Ileana Cotrubas as Susanna, and Frederica von Stade as Cherubino). It was also a Glyndebourne production, and I would still have no problem recommending it as a reasonable alternative, but I must point out that it was recorded in 1973 and features sound and picture qualities that cannot remotely stand up to those of this splendid 1994 recording.
Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings