In 1988 when this period-instrument Figaro was released, the style was still a novelty, and Ostman gained some notoreity for his rushed tempos as well as the scrawniness of his chamber orchestra, by far the smallest to play this great opera on CD. Yet when I read a glowing review by Andrew Porter in the New Yorker, I immediately bought the performance, shortly discovering that it was a true gem in the extensive Figaro catalog.
By Santa Fe Listener
In his 2003 production for the Maggio Musicale in Florence, director Jonathan Miller invested the complex relationships between the characters with countless tiny erotic charges and even obvious sexual symbols. The artistic director of the renowned Maggio Musicale festival Zubin Mehta brings out not only the tension and drive of the music but also its harmonic richness. The singers all belong to the international opera scene and not only provide excellent vocal quality but also strong acting skills, which help to tell the gripping story with its many disguises, mix-ups and discoveries: Russian soprano Eteri Gvazava internationally recognised since her sensational Traviata à Paris filming partnering José Cura is wonderful to watch and to hear in the role of the sad but contriving Countess Almaviva. Patrizia Ciofi, the Italian belcanto star is Susanna with all her intriguing acting skills and her pointed vocal intensity. Lucio Gallo who plays the evil character in this plot is one of the foremost Italian baritones. The title role is sung by Giorgio Surian, a bass-baritone who started off on the Italian opera scene, but has since made a steady career on international opera stages.
The Marriage of Figaro, as this elegant 1994 production brilliantly reminds us, was a French bedroom comedy before it became a Mozart opera. It is a classic of French literature, and it is still enjoyable as a spoken play after more than two centuries of existence. Its literary quality gives this production a special flavor. The music–some of Mozart's finest–is beautifully presented by a carefully chosen international cast (including Giovanni Furlanetto, Elzbieta Szymtka, Janice Watson, and Ludovic Tezier), but what sets this production apart is its theatrical flavor, cultivated by a director who is an expert on classic French theater. The standards of spoken theater are upheld in timing, body language, the inflection of punch lines. These qualities are more important here than in most operas; style is both crucial and elusive. Fortunately, the Opera de Lyon, one of most imaginative companies in Europe, shows an impressive sense of style. (Joe McLellan)
Unlike the late arrival of Mozart's Turkish opera, "Figaro" was much more of a constant in Solti's long career. Apart from being his debut opera, and a work he conducted at Covent Garden in a new staging in 1963-64, he also led editions in Chicago (1957), and with the Paris Opera in the highly visible Giorgio Strehler production that opened Intendant Rolf Liebermann's bold-new-start regime in March 1973; it was initially presented at the Palace of Versailles and in 1976 toured to the US. Frederica von Stade, the most admired Cherubino of the day, who had sung the role for Solti at Versailles, also appears on his subsequent recording. Made in 1981 with an exceptional cast, it won a Grammy award, perhaps unsurprisingly given that its other major assets include Kiri Te Kanawa's creamy-voiced Countess, Lucia Popp's sprightly Susanna, Thomas Allen's authoritative Count and Samuel Ramey's weighty Figaro. Smaller roles - Jane Berbié's Marcellina, Robert Tear's Basilio and Philip Langridge's Curzio among them - are also handled with tremendous care.
This luxuriously cast film of Mozart's beloved opera buffa features a host of legendary interpretations, including Kiri Te Kanawa's exquisite Countess Almaviva, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as her philandering husband, Hermann Prey as the wily title character, Mirella Freni, a delight as his no less savvy bride Susanna, and Maria Ewing, hilarious as the lovesick page Cherubino. Director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's imaginative camera-work tellingly emphasizes character and mood in this immortal story of love, intrigue and class struggle, set against the historical background of ancien regime Europe sliding inexorably towards revolution.
Originally released by Philips Classics on VHS and Laserdisc in 1991, the 13-part Mozart on Tour series chronicles the journeys of the child, adolescent and adult Mozart across Europe, in what was ultimately to prove a futile pursuit of fame and fortune.