60s Figaro from Glyndebourne

No opera says Glyndebourne like Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.  It opened the first season in 1934 and inaugurated the new theatre in 1994.  Michael Grandage’s production which opened in 2012 was, I think, Glyndebourne’s fifth.  In any event it’s a fairly traditional affair though with the setting updated to the 1960s (though still set in a palace in Seville and I’ve got a nagging feeling that late Franco era Spain didn’t have much in common with the Haight and Carnaby Street but there you go).  The updated setting does allow for some visual gags with ridiculous 1960s dance moves but otherwise it could pretty much be anywhere, anytime.  There’s no concept and Grandage’s focus is on the interactions between the characters and the way they can be expressed in a relatively intimate house.

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He’s successful.  The guys are quite sharply characterised with Vito Priante as a slightly ferrety Figaro contrasted with Audun Iversen’s swaggering, slightly larger than life, Count.  The ladies are more enigmatic.  There’s not much of Rosina in Sally Matthews’ somewhat repressed Countess and I really don’t know how to describe Lydia Teuscher’s Sussanna; fragile?, vulnerable?  Maybe but in other ways not really.  Isdabel Leonard manages a convincingly testosterone fuelled Cherubino and Sarah Shafer’s minidress clad Barbarina gets maybe a bit more agency than usual.  Ann Murray is very funny as Marcellina though her aria is cut.  Alan Oke’s Basilio looks curiously like Eric Idle in the “Is your wife a goer?” sketch.  It’s all very lively and the Glyndebourne chorus gets to do lots of silly disco dancing and fondling.  That bit of the era I do remember.

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Musically it’s pretty good.  I think the standout musically is Priante’s Figaro which is very solid but Matthews sings her two big arias nicely and is spot on the dénouement.  It’s rather a pity though that video director François Roussillon, usually excellent, almost misses her entrance!  The ensemble work is fine across the board and I don’t think there are any weak links vocally in this cast.  Robin Ticciati conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment who likely know this piece backwards.

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There are extras.  There’s a cast gallery and a decent doco about the production.  There’s also a slightly obsessive feature on the set design and build.  Not only does it dwell in detail on the work that went into creating Moorish textures for the set but there’s about five minutes on restoring the Austin Healey that appears for far less time than that during the overture!

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Technically this is up to the usual Glyndebourne Opus Arte Blu-ray standard.  The picture is excellent and the DTS-HD-MA soundtrack is demonstration quality.  François Roussillon’s video direction, despite the odd lapse, is better than average.  The documentation includes an essay and a synopsis.  Subtitle options are English (slightly odd at times), German, French, Italian, Japanese and Korean.

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So, there it is, a well executed, essentially traditional Figaro.  I enjoyed it but I’m not convinced the updating added anything other than a few sight gags and I’m not sure it really stands  up in a very crowded field.  Traditionalists will likely prefer the 2004 Paris production which combines very high musical quality with technical values ahead of its time in a briskly attractive production.  Personally my first choice remains Claus Guth’s (and one might add Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s) more conceptual 2006 Salzburg version though I know it’s not to everyone’s taste.

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At time of writing the production reviewed here is available as part of a three disc set with Glyndebourne’s 2006 Così fan tutte and 2015 Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

4 thoughts on “60s Figaro from Glyndebourne

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  3. John, I’m surprised you kinda, sorta like this based on what I read about this production. I understand there is what passes as disco dancing during the gavotte at the end of the third act among other nonsense. Why update a production to do a “traditional” production? Why not just set it in Seville in 1780? With everything that this opera in particular has to offer dealing with politics, class and sexual relations doing a laugh yuks/ roll in the hay Figaro seems pointless. It just sounds like the director really had no ideas about the piece and figured he had to do something to earn his fee. You also say Grandage does a good job with the interactions between the characters but that the Countess and Susanna are “not much” and “not really.” One could argue they are the two pivotal characters in the opera.

    • Your comments are very fair. The weird thing is I quite enjoyed it and didn’t at all have the fairly visceral reaction I get when a production is dead wrong (e.g. the COC’s recent Elixir). I have to admit I wouldn’t buy it though. It doesn’t really measure up in a crowded field and I think I should edit to reflect that.

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