Recorded at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in June 2004, le Nozze de Figaro was unanimously acclaimed by public and critics alike as a Mozart opera landmark. Director Jean-Louis Martinoty brings an elegantly intelligent narrative sense to an interpretation in which the protagonists, against a backdrop of magnificent canvases of 18th- century inspiration, are dressed by Sylvie de Segonzac in a palette in which every shade is perfect.
An Italian chamber orchestra, Rondó Veneziano set itself apart from many groups of similar style by not only employing mostly women musicians and making it a rule to perform in period Baroque dress, but mainly because they were able to meld traditional chamber music pieces to modern backing tracks, rhythms, and percussion lines, almost giving their classical sound a club music foundation that sometimes bordered on prog rock. Their first big break came in the United Kingdom in 1983, with the single "La Serenissima," which was followed two years later by a successful appearance providing the score to the film Not Quite Jerusalem…
This groundbreaking performance seems as if it is happening in real time. At its best, and seemingly counter-intuitively, opera is at its most effective when we don’t notice that the characters are singing: such is the case here. If you know this opera, then the third of the men’s trios in scene 1 (“Una bella serenata”) will seem very fast; hearing it with fresh ears, Jacobs’ breakneck tempo seems utterly natural—these guys have been worked up into a fun/competitive frenzy and can’t wait to get started on what they think will be a grand adventure. Similarly, the little quintet before the men depart (“Di scrivermi…”) is so slow that you feel the melodrama; if they are going to play, they are going to play thoroughly, making each word and situation count.
Mozart is the most pervasively dramatic composer in history. The spirit of opera informs very nearly his every work. Themes are characters; characters interact; they change. András Schiff’s alertness to the dialogue in Mozart is reflected both in his acute sense of characterisation and his immensely sophisticated use of articulation. Every line breathes. Not only that, every tone tells. Just as the voice in conversation subtly reflects the speaker’s state of mind, so Schiff’s deployment of sonority derives from an acute perception of the notes’ psychological as well as their purely musical character. This recording from the historical and stunningly beautiful Teatro Olimpico affords us numerous insights into Schiff’s approach to music and music-making, and more besides. Schiff’s joy in performance is as evident to the eye as to the ear.
Involving, as it does, three master musicians and a fine chamber orchestra this was never likely to be be other than rewarding. It may not correspond with the ways of playing Mozart at the beginning of the twenty-first century which are fashionable at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but it has virtues – such as high intelligence, sympathy, certainty of purpose, grace, alertness of interplay – which transcend questions of performance practice. Looking at the names of the pianists above, we might be surprised by the presence of Sir Georg Solti, so used are we to thinking of him as a conductor. But the young Solti appeared in public as a pianist from the age of twelve and went on to study piano in Budapest, with Dohnányi and Bartok.