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113 of 116 people found the following review helpful
As Near to Perfection as I'm Ever Likely to SeeOct. 13 2004
J Scott Morrison
- Published on Amazon.com
This 1973 production from the old Glyndebourne Festival theatre has as starry a cast as one could possibly put together at the time and strikes me as well above what passes for top-drawer these days. The cast is simply marvelous. Oddly, it includes a singer as Figaro that I'd never heard of before, one Knut Skram, and I was a little apprehensive about that. I needn't have been. He is a tall handsome 36-year old Norwegian whose bass-baritone is rich and whose acting is superb. He looks the part better and moves more nimbly than any Figaro I've ever seen. And he sings in his arias and ensembles with dash and musicality. As the for the rest of the cast just look who is in it. Kiri te Kanawa, in the first flush of her international stardom, as a Countess who is ravishing both in sound and in looks. Her 'Porgi amor' and 'Dove sono' are radiantly beautiful. Her resistance to the Count's bulldozing is both feminine and strong (not that those are contradictory qualities, of course). Her conspiring with Susanna is delicious. In the final scene, where she forgives the Count, she is noble. Indeed in that scene the entire ensemble right through to 'Corriam tutti' is splendid. Benjamin Luxon is a proper Count who is more than a bit of a rascal. He plays the bullying Lord believably but does not come across as an unlikable heel, and one feels there is the chance that he may indeed change his ways. He is in marvelous voice and acts well both physically and vocally. Mezzo Frederica von Stade has made a specialty of the role of Cherubino, and with good reason. She has both the figure and the voice for it. Add to that the ability to seem both callow and devilish and you have a combination perfect for the role. Her 'Voi che sapete' is perfection. The secondary roles are well cast, well acted, and very well sung. One couldn't ask for a better Don Basilio (John Fryatt) or Don Bartolo (Marius Rintzler of the cavernous bass and the wicked buffo ways; his 'La vendetta' is choice). Nucci Bondo makes a likeable Marcellina and she sounds good, too. Even the Barbarina and Antonio are well-done.
The singer who should come in for the most praise, though, is the young Ileana Cotrubas, who of course went on to major international stardom (she was one of the best Violettas I ever saw), and in this performance she not only sings like an angel, but her comic acting (and think of the timing that's required for the part) is in a league with a Carol Burnett or a Tracy Ullman. Her Act III duet with the count, 'Crudel! Perché finora,' demonstrates not only her superb singing (and Luxon's) but also her teasing way with him. Delicious!
In the pit is the ever-trustworthy John Pritchard conducting the London Philharmonic. The stage production was directed by the legendary Peter Hall. The video production was done by Humphrey Burton, a stalwart of these sorts of television specials, and it was directed with expertise by Dave Heather. The rather traditional, but quite beautiful, production design was by John Bury.
I do not own any other DVDs of 'Marriage of Figaro' and cannot compare this one with the ones available. I find myself not impelled to obtain any others, however. I must comment that the color and stereo sound are of their time, the early 1970s. These are certainly not a hindrance, but one does recognize that this is a classic production.
I predict I will be returning to this performance many times over the years.
1 DVD, TT=185 mins, no extras, subtitles in German, French, English, Spanish, Italian.
55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
ExquisiteJan. 7 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a truly lovely jewel-box of a production that is a triumph of simplicity and traditionalism. "Concept" opera can work, don't get me wrong, but what a treat it is to sit back and wallow in the pleasures of a beautifully staged, designed and -- most importantly -- sung performance as this. There isn't a weak link in the cast. Particularly, Cotrubas may be the best Susanna ever, shining with an inner radiance that brings a smile to your face whenever she's on stage. And Te Kanawa is as beautiful as ever, her customary richness of tone and heartbreaking expressiveness solidly on display. The director has given the perfomance terrific pace and momentum (as does Pritchard in the pit) and has gotten his singers to be terrific actors as well. I was concerned that the picture quality would not be the best (given that this is 30 year old video), but it's clear as can be. The audio is less than wonderful at times (not too bad and not for too long), but that may simply be my copy. In any event, look no further if you want a "Figaro" for the ages, one that honors the intent and brilliance of its creators.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
The Figaro to own on DVDMarch 25 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
Let me start off by saying that this an early seventies telecast of a Glyndebourne production, so the picture and sound quality aren't as pristine as you're likely get from, say, a recent Met broadcast. The picture is grainy, the colors occasionally garish, with video "ghosts" trailing the performers. The sound isn't as balanced between singers and orchestra as it would be in a modern recording, and the singing sounds rough, just a little, at times. No matter. That shouldn't deter any prospective buyers. This is a great Figaro at a great price. Why? It's Glyndebourne of course. And, more than anything else, it's the singers, baby, the singers!
The three female leads could not have been more ideally cast. Just imagine Kiri te Kanawa as the Countess, Ileana Cortubas as Susanna and Frederica von Stade as Cherubino. Then imagine all three of these lovely, obscenely talented young women in the same cast of the same production. Your heart's already beating a little faster? Okay, imagine them onstage AT THE SAME TIME, as they are during Act Two. Then be prepared to take a trip to Mozartean heaven. Each woman was born to sing her respective role, and it shows here, with nary a false note among them. Von Stade's Voi che sapete and te Kanawa's Dove sono are as fine renditions as you are likely to hear.
The men fare almost as well. I had never heard of Benjamin Luxon before, but his Count simply blew me away! His voice is overpowering, and his dramatic skills just as good, portraying all the arrogance, self-delusion and blustery confusion necessary for an exemplary rendition. Knut Skrum, our Figaro, was another new name for me, and to be honest, I wasn't nearly as excited by his performance as I was with Luxon's. Skrum hits the right notes, and he takes away the buffoonish elements that are often given to the character, which I feel is appropriate, I like seeing Figaro as a suave and savvy individual. I just feel that his portrayal is missing something, both vocally and dramatically, that extra "oomph" that would have sent it into the stratosphere. Still, this is hardly a fatal flaw, or even a flaw at all. When you have a good Figaro, and a great everybody else(the supporting cast is quite good), then this is a Nozze di Figaro for the ages.
John Pritchard leads a jaunty, uncut rendition of the score(all the act four arias are here). The traditional sets are so good as to be inconspicuous; in other words, the set designers have created such a convincing interior of a Count's estate that the singers blend in naturally with the surroundings, and the audience is left to admire the wonderful music.
The other Glyndebourne release of this opera, with Rene Fleming as the Countess, is quite good. Apparently the Met will release its unconventional production very soon(it features a couple of rare arias and a mezzo-soprano, Cecilia Bartoli, in the role of Susanna). Still, this Figaro is the one to own on DVD, it's certainly the one I am likely to return to more than any other.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Splendid singing, sabotaged by the audioSept. 22 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
As one of the top-rated "Figaros" on these pages, it should be better than this. Yes, the singing is wonderful; and almost everything about the production as seen in the theater was top-notch, although the orchestral playing was not of the same quality as the singing. The orchestra may, however, have been better than can be heard through the poor audio quality, which makes it sound as if they're all playing on cheap starter instruments. The sound from the orchestra pit is dead, while the sound from the stage is as if from a gym heard through a tunnel and then trapped in a honky old loudspeaker. Live pickup was still an underdeveloped technology at the time of this recording in 1973. There is no stereo separation and almost no sense of space; so it might as well have been mono. At first I couldn't stand it and turned it off, but then I gritted my teeth and ventured back in for about half of it. I am surprised that so many of the reviewers here have ignored or dismissed this deficiency as irrelevant. What could be more important than the sound?
Fortunately, there are alternatives, one being the delicious film by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, also featuring an all-star cast (also including Kiri Te Kanawa as the Countess) and the estimable Mozartean, Karl Böhm, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). To be fair, however, the Ponnelle film is one of those strange hybrids between movie and opera--not a live stage performance. Made only three years later than this video, the film benefits from having the sound recorded in a studio, even though it meant that the singers had to lip-sync their arias. More directly comparable is a much more recent Covent Garden production, stunningly beautiful on Blu-ray Le Nozze di Figaro [Blu-ray], but a little lacking in the vocal department on the women's side. To find a stage production on video that did full justice to this miraculous score, I had to return to the 1985 Met performance with Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Stade. Alas, it is not available for sale; but one can stream it for a modest price from the Met's Website. The picture quality is comparable to that on this release (not very good, but bearable), and the audio is better.
Back to the performance at hand, it is wonderful to see Te Kanawa and von Stade in their younger days, and this would make a good one-time rental, but is definitely not for the opera library if one cares about the sound. As far as the video is concerned, I did not find it particularly objectionable; unlike the audio, it is not critical to the enjoyment of the music; and it is quite serviceable in terms of showing the costumes, action, and sets. Its quality is slightly better than standard-broadcast TV, though well short of the best available on DVD. (The aforementioned Böhm DVD, on the other hand, having been made from a film rather than a TV broadcast, comes close to the full quality available on DVDs, even though, like this video, it is in the old non-wide-screen 4:3 format.)
Returning again to the merits of the performance itself, the singing is about as close to perfection as it gets; but the ensemble between the singers and orchestra is just OK, suffering from the lapses that are all but unavoidable in live performance. If this production were available on a DVD that was of at least average quality, or if the performance itself were so miraculous as to brush aside any technical objections, it would be worth owning; unfortunately, neither is the case.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
What a great performanceDec 7 2004
Erik Aleksander Moe
- Published on Amazon.com
This production is a delight from start to finish. It has really great singing and acting from everyone. I had the pleasure seing Knut Skram at the Norwegian Opera in Tosca and Flying Dutchman as Scarpia and the Dutchman and it was simply stunning. What a great actor and singer he is. His performance of Scarpia was his farewell performance, so the world won't be seeing him again on stage. Therefore we are so fortunate to have his Figaro on this performance. His great abilities as an actor is in full effect and his singing is top notch too. He has done so much on the Norwegian Opera's stage, practically every major baritone role in the German and Italian repetory. Ilena Cotrubas is also totally great as Susanna. This has to be one of the most convincing performances of the role on DVD and record. Kiri Te Kanawa's Countess is also such a delight. It was just the beginning of a brilliant career and she proves here that she was the reigning Countess for the next couple of decades. Benjamin Luxon was also extremely good as the Count. I had never heard of him before, but he had the appropriate mixture of noblity and arrogance making his plead for forgiveness at the end all the more effective. Frederica von Stade was also the most convincing Cerubino I have seen and heard. Her acting and singing alike are so much at the heart of the boy page who has hormones going all over the place. The Marcellina and Bartolo duo was also exceptionally good.
John Pritchard's conducting was so in tune with the great demands of Mozart's great opera, mixing great lyrical and comical moment perfectly. It was also a delight that the whole 4th act was done with both Marcellina's and Basilio's arias, which are normally cut.
The sound here is really good. It is presented in PCM stereo sound. The picture is also quite good. The colors are a bit too saturated, but it is very good considering that it is 30 years old.
This DVD is very highly recommended to all lovers of this great opera.