Figaro: Bryn Terfel (bass)
Susanna: Cecilia Bartoli (soprano)
Doctor Bartolo: Paul Plishka (bass)
Marcellina: Wendy White (soprano)
Cherubino: Susanne Mentzer (soprano)
Count Almaviva: Dwayne Croft (bass)
Countess Almaviva: Renée Fleming (soprano)
Barbarina: Danielle de Niese (soprano)
Among the treasures in my collection is one that is particularly valued: a film of a production of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera starring Renée Fleming, Bryn Terfel and Cecilia Bartoli. I don’t think it has ever been released commercially, and I have it only because I filmed it from a broadcast. House of Opera doesn’t sell it.
It was a surprise when it was announced that Cecilia would sing the role of Susanna, a role I don’t think she has sung since. There was a huge scandal because she insisted on performing different arias. I know “Un moto di gioia” is one of her favorites. Her choices, especially the final aria, are very successful, but she does not sing “Deh vieni non tardar.”
I have felt since I first saw this film that I never really understood this opera before. In a world where everything had to be about status and privilege, where the operas were clearly divided between elevated moral dramas about the upper classes and comedies in dialect from the lower classes, Mozart has brought us real people from all the various classes of his era, people with serious problems, people like us. I don’t think I really understood how deeply serious Figaro really is.
Cecilia is key in the success of this entire performance because she makes you feel how much Susanna loves Figaro and how much she hates the idea of sex with the count, how much she loathes his attentions while successfully masking her emotions from him. This is the content of the Marriage of Figaro, not just the jokes. I have read the book this is based on, but it is Mozart and da Ponte who give true life to these people.
There is a wonderful rapport between Cecilia and Bryn which they exploited in a duet album and dvd. This rapport is at its best here. They are exciting and very charismatic together.
As if this were not wonderful enough, there is also the fabulous countess of Renée Fleming, who needs only to sit around being miserably regal while singing two of the most gorgeous arias ever written. Gorgeously. She is in top form.
It is a succession of perfectly executed scenes by ideally cast singing actors. When was Figaro’s discovery of his parents ever so perfect? The count and countess are effectively upper class while Susanna and Figaro are common, as it should be. The entire production is pure perfection in singing, conducting and ensemble acting, and never becomes stale.
As one who has long adored Cecilia and has seen a lot of her stage work, this is her masterpiece.