« »

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Le nozze de Figaro (CD) Harmonia Mundi 2004

Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro (CD)


“Simon Keenlyside’s Count is simply the best on disc” Classics Today

“Beg it, borrow it, buy it, blag it…but whatever you do, don’t miss it: this is a truly life-enhancing Figaro, and I wouldn’t swap it for another.” Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 CD Review

Winner of the Grammy award for Best Opera recording 2005.

Best of Category (Opera), Gramophone Award winner and Record of the Year

Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor René Jacobs
Il Conte di Almaviva: Simon Keenlyside
La Contessa di Almaviva: Véronique Gens
Susanna: Patrizia Ciofi
Figaro: Lorenzo Regazzo
Cherubino: Angelika Kirchschlager
Marcellina: Marie McLaughin
Basilio: Kobie van Rensberg
Antonio: Antonio Abete
Barbarina: Nuria Rial
Elizabeth Rapp
Yeree Suh Orchestra Concerto Köln
Ghent Collegium Vocale
Label Harmonia Mundi
Code I498329
Released April 5, 2004
Number of discs 3
ASIN B0001HZ728
Award_Grammy47th Grammy Award
Award_ChocChoc du Monde de la Musique
Award_Luister10Luister 10
Award_ffff_teleramaUn événement télérama (ffff)

Photo Gallery

What the critics say

Anne Midgette, New York Times,  December 12, 2004

The Best Classical CD’s of 2004

“Take a well-known opera, add the conductor René Jacobs, and you get something so fresh and alive you feel you’re hearing it for the first time. Following his outstanding ”Così Fan Tutte” of 1999, this ”Nozze” has the engrossing immediacy of a film and the musical quality of, well, its leads: Simon Keenlyside and the fabulous Concerto Köln.”

Stanley Sadie assessing the Gramophone Award winners

“Lorenzo Regazzo’s sharp, virile Figaro has the resources to put across a strong characterization with plenty of pre-Revolutionary hints, and the tension between him and Simon Keenlyside’s lean, mean Count is palpable.”

Stanley Sadie for Gramophone, May 2004

“The Count of Simon Keenlyside is powerful, menacing, lean and dark in tone.”

Editors Choice, William R Braun for Opera News July  2004, vol 69, no.1

“The cast was thoughtfully chosen. Simon Keenlyside is above all a musicianly Count. He has darkened his voice for the role, often sounding (as he never does in life) like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.”

Joseph K So [in English] in Vol. 10 No. 1 of La Scena Musicale

“Simon Keenlyside (Conte) sings with gorgeous tone and is full of macho swagger.”

Anthony Holden for The Observer, Sunday April 4, 2004

Classical CD of the week.

“From the hectic energy of the overture, it’s clear that the incomparable Rene Jacobs and his superb period band are going to shed their Baroque inhibitions and squeeze every last ounce of wit, drama and sheer beauty from Mozart’s wondrous score. And Jacobs has got the perfect cast to complement his own passionate musicianship. Keenlyside’s robust Count is every inch a match for Regazzo’s sonorously Italian Figaro, with Gens a sumptuous Countess and Ciofi a feisty Susanna. Throw in Kirchschlager’s beguiling Cherubino, plus terrific ensemble support, and you have a racy, pacy, really thrilling new account of one of the greatest of all operas.”

Andrew Clements for The Guardian, Friday April 2, 2004

“Lorenzo Regazzo’s Figaro is less boisterous and more serious than some – there’s no hint of the cheeky chappie about this quite subversive operator, whose mistrust of his master is profound and dangerous. It makes him a good match for Simon Keenlyside’s count, who is genuinely scary but suave when the occasion demands, and for Patrizia Ciofi’s flighty Susanna. Ciofi is wonderfully deft in the second act, alongside Véronique Gens’s liquid, elegant countess and Angelika Kirchschlager’s puppyish Cherubino.”

A rare, negative review: James Camner, Issue 28:1 (Sept/Oct 2004) Fanfare Magazine

“… What we have is a smorgasbord of styles and ornaments executed sometimes confidently and charmingly in places like “Sull’ aria” by Patrizia Ciofi and Véronique Gens, and even spectacularly by Kobie van Rensburg in “In quegl’ anni in cui val poco,” but more often tentatively and awkwardly as in “Voi che sapete” by Angelika Kirchschlager. The heart of the problem is that these singers, of disparate backgrounds and training, often seem stiff and ill at ease in ornamentation that should be expressive with effortless brio.”

Bernard Jacobson, Issue 28:1 (Sept/Oct 2004) of Fanfare Magazine.

“… René Jacobs follows up his masterly 1999 Così (lavishly praised by Brian Robins and me in 22:6) with the first Figaro worthy to displace Kleiber’s. Indeed, what Jacobs and his singers and orchestra have achieved here may well stand alongside the famous 1953 Callas/de Sabata Tosca as the greatest realization of an opera ever put on disc.”

Opera reviews tend to be long largely because of the imperfections that must be pointed out. In this case, there is no such need, and I can be relatively brief. The cast, to begin with, is flawless. I expected great things of Véronique Gens, who had already demonstrated her quality as a Mozart heroine with her Fiordiligi in the Jacobs Così. Nor does she disappoint, singing like an angel, and portraying the Countess as a girl—don’t forget that according to Beaumarchais’s original play, this character, too often represented as matronly, is only nineteen—deeply unsettled by her experience of a largely unsatisfactory marriage, yet endowed with the wisdom and innate poise that make her final gesture of noble forgiveness totally believable.”

“I had no previous acquaintance with any of the other singers, but they are all exemplary, both vocally and in the projection of their roles. One of the most remarkable aspects of the performance is the way each of the principals, within a few lines of first appearance, establishes a vivid sense of individual character. In the opening duet, for example, Lorenzo Regazzo, whose bass voice is of rare richness and flexibility, presents us with a Figaro at once sexy, intelligent, and dangerous, and Patrizia Ciofi makes it clear that this Susanna is to be no mere soubrette. My wife, incidentally, remarked that she thought Susanna sounded too much like the Countess: my own feeling is that the evident maturity of Ciofi’s voice is actually an advantage. Not only does it make sense in terms of character—it also lends additional piquancy to the situation in act IV, when Figaro understandably takes a moment or two to realize that the supposed Countess is actually Susanna in disguise. Simon Keenlyside’s Count, meanwhile, has shown himself a true aristocrat in both the attractive and the pejorative senses often attaching to that double-edged word. Silkily seductive, and authoritative by habit and breeding, he is at the same time a spoiled little boy. Angelika Kirchschlager makes an equally lifelike Cherubino. This young person is, it has been suggested, the womanizing Almaviva of the next generation (which is why the present incumbent resents him so bitterly). For the moment, however, he is a mixed-up adolescent, whose obsession with “love” recalls the fevered “space of life” that a letter of John Keats located “between the healthy imagination of a boy and the healthy mature imagination of a man.”

“… Altogether, this is a Figaro of a quality that would surely have astonished and delighted Mozart himself, and I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity of hearing and recommending it.”

Brian Robins, Issue 28:1 (Sept/Oct 2004) of Fanfare Magazine.


“…For him [Jacobs], the Almaviva household is a dangerous place. Not, I hasten to add, for political reasons, which, in my view, have been much exaggerated in respect of Figaro (as Jacobs rightly points out, we don’t know Mozart’s views on the politics of the original Beaumarchais play), but in romantic terms. Take, for example, the relationship between the Countess and Cherubino, parts gloriously taken by the regal Véronique Gens and the lustrously toned Angelika Kirchschlager. This page is definitely, in the Count’s words, “less of a child than you think,” rather a dangerous young adolescent fully aware of his awakening sexual potency. For all the protestations of enduring faith so unforgettably articulated by Gens in “Dove sono,” her Countess might easily have been bedded by the young page, as indeed she was, according to the final part of Baemarchais’s trilogy. If you don’t believe me, just listen to her reaction at the end of a ravishing, liquidly sensual “Voi che sapete.”

That brings me to the treatment of secco recitative, here delivered in true parlando style with greater point and wit than I think I’ve ever previously heard it. Like Alan Curtis, Jacobs is one of those very rare conductors prepared to recognize (and work on) the huge importance of recitative as a device that is there not just to carry us from one aria to the next, but that has huge significance for the development of both plot and, equally as importantly, character development. Turn to virtually any passage of secco in this set, and you’re immediately involved with what is going on.

…Simon Keenlyside is a splendid Count, both imperiously authoritative and a convincing Don Giovanni manqué.”

“… Ultimately, however, this set belongs to the visionary René Jacobs, who, aided by superb orchestral playing and an outstanding cast, has produced a stunningly vivid realization of one of the great cornerstones of the operatic repertoire. “

Albums from around the world
By Stephen Pettitt, Barry Millington, Simon Broughton and Jack Massarik, Evening Standard, 20 April 2004

This version of Mozart’s wittiest yet most profound opera – an observation and explosion of the absurdities of class distinction – is first rate. It is conducted by Rene; Jacobs, who has proved himself a natural man of the theatre in his many recordings of baroque opera, and of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

Crucially, he is able to bring a wonderful spirit of spontaneity even to the stifling surroundings of a recording studio, and here, directing the precise, ever alert period instruments of Concerto Koln, he provokes a reading that is positively electric.

There is wonderful characterisation from Simon Keenlyside and the radiant Veronique Gens as Count Almaviva and his longsuffering Countess on one side of the great but crumbly divide, Patrizia Ciofi and Lorenzo Regazzo as the mischievous Susanna and Figaro on the other – while Angelika Kirschlager makes an appealingly boyish Cherubino and the slyness of Kobie van Rensburg as Basilio is positively fox-like.

Robert Levine for Classics today, 4 December 2004 (extracts)


“Simon Keenlyside’s Count is simply the best on disc; he manages to be lascivious and angry without ever going into mustache-twirling caricature (the way, say, Fischer-Dieskau tended to), and he’s the only singer I’ve ever heard who gets through every note, every turn, every trill of the third-act aria unscathed, even victorious. His Countess, Veronique Gens, at times seems a bit vocally out of sorts, but she presents a remarkably sympathetic figure, with sadness and girlish desire for fun in equal measure.”

“Patrizia Ciofi’s Susanna is beautifully sung–spicy and knowing; she’s a perfect foil for the somewhat serious Figaro of Lorenzo Regazzo. He has a rich voice and all the notes for the soon-to-be-wed Figaro, and he sounds properly non-plussed by the Bartolo/Marcellina announcement. Angelika Kirchschlager’s Cherubino is boyish and impetuous, a truly romance-stricken character. Marie McLaughlin makes a younger-than-usual Marcellina, Antonio Abete flavors Bartolo well, and Kobie van Rensburg is colorful as both Basilio and Don Curzio.”

“As suggested, Jacobs is the true star. By keeping the cast interested and lively and by bringing out the razzing in the winds, the blare of the horns (in Figaro’s fourth-act aria particularly, although they seem to be coming from a different, distant acoustic), the sharp attack of the strings, and a timpani thwap that punctuates just as it ought to, he brilliantly realizes the comedy of the text and music. This is top of the line.”

Andrew McGregor, presenter of CD Review on Radio 3

Madly scurrying strings and a fruity bassoon, the twang of a fortepiano cutting through the orchestra at the end of the first phrase of the overture, and a crisp, explosive burst of energy and adrenaline with the first loud chord: right from the top this Figaro feels as though it’s going to be fun.

Just how much fun only becomes clear when the singers arrive: Figaro himself, sung by Lorenzo Regazzo: firm, clearly focused, and not for a moment played as a buffoon. This is serious comedy, and Figaro knows his employer the Count is dangerous, hell-bent on seducing his bride-to-be. His fiancée Susanna is Patrizia Ciofi, beautifully characterised: flirtatious, cheeky, overflowing with life and laughter…while her potential nemesis the Count is Simon Keenlyside at his dangerously rapacious best, a truly menacing presence who darkens every room in which he appears: a lethally intelligent portrayal.

Véronique Gens as the Countess is the epitome of elegance, every vocal line spun like silk. Angelika Kirchschlager is Cherubino, the irrepressible page boy, sounding uncomfortably under-pitch in the big numbers (‘Voi che sapete’), and the parts of Basilio and Bartolo have been better cast for other recordings…but what most other recordings don’t have is the sense that this has been taken straight from stage to studio, a living, breathing dramatic ensemble that’s inhabiting the work, not just singing their parts.

But it’s René Jacobs and Concerto Köln that propel this exhilarating account of Figaro somewhere special, and truly memorable. In the notes Jacobs writes about the neo-Classical approach he’s after:fast tempos, the performance of the recitatives, the ornaments added here and there by the singers, and a few other features that may surprise the audience…like that fortepiano continuo. I suspect some listeners will hate it, thinking it too over-elaborate, but I love it.

Its irresistibly bubbly flourishes whirl us breathlessly from scene to scene, refusing to allow the drama to grind to a halt for a moment, so that some of the necessary elements of operatic artifice are concealed from us. The rest of the playing is zestful, colourful and characterful, and the recording is demonstration-class for all the right reasons: it refuses to draw attention to itself, while allowing all of this detail, all of this musicality and vitality to reach our ears undimmed.

The packaging is lavish, the pricing generous, the whole experience an absolute joy from beginning to end. Never mind neo-Classical: this is opera for our times, a subversive composer refreshed for a 21st century audience. Beg it, borrow it, buy it, blag it…but whatever you do, don’t miss it: this is a truly life-enhancing Figaro, and I wouldn’t swap it for another.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment