With Both Farce And Feeling, Currentzis' 'Figaro' Succeeds Magnificently

Aug 19, 2014

There are many recordings of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Do we need another? In the case of this new recording led by the young Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis, Fresh Air classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz says, "Absolutely."

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This is FRESH AIR. There are many recordings of Mozart's "the Marriage of Figaro." Do we need another, asked our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz. In the case of this new recording led by the young Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis, Lloyd's answer is absolutely.


LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: Teodor Currentzis, the 42-year-old conductor born in Athens, has been conducting in Russia where he's managed to get the kind of support from a regional governor that would essentially give him everything a conductor could wish for - and orchestra he himself assembled, the soloists he wants and, above all, unrestricted rehearsal time and recording conditions. And on the basis of his new recording of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro," which may very well be the greatest opera ever written or, at least, the most humane and the most sublimely beautiful, he has succeeded magnificently. The recording was made in 11 straight days and nights, and it conveys a sense of unity of an ensemble of performers all on the same page and a freshness and urgency that's very rare in today's opera world. Currentzis calls Mozart the most contemporary composer and the greatest musician in history - someone with a deep understanding of good and evil - a composer who could create the most perfect musical architecture and also, quote, "put the snake in the middle of the temple." Currentzis isn't trying to prove any historical or musical logical point. His orchestra, Musica Aeterna, uses period instruments because, Currentzis says, they sound better. If I thought that this music sounds better on electric guitars, he says, I would perform it on electric guitars. This Figaro is not just a farce. It's all about human feeling. And Currentzis achieves this through a kind of instinct that intuits the most expressive tempos and nuanced dynamics. Here's the music that opens the last act. Barbarina, the gardener's young daughter, has been entrusted to deliver a pin that signifies an agreement to a secret rendezvous. But she's lost the pin. To her, this little mistake is tragic. So Currentzis chooses a slower than usual tempo that conveys what Barbarina is feeling from the inside. Even before she starts to sing, we know that, to her, her plight is heartbreaking.


NATALYA KIRILLOVA: (As Barbarina) (Singing in foreign language).

SCHWARTZ: In one of the operas greatest ensembles, a comic sextet, Figaro discovers who his real parents are. And, again, Currentzis finds a tempo that goes beyond farce and shows each character really absorbing this astonishing new information.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in foreign language).

SCHWARTZ: And in a climactic scene that many people consider the supreme moment in Mozart opera - when the count discovers that the woman he's been trying to seduce is actually his own wife in disguise, chastened and humbled, he asks the countess to forgive him. And she does. Currentzis gives this moment the weight and depth and mystery of a hushed prayer.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As Count) (Singing in a foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (As Countess) (Singing in foreign language).

SCHWARTZ: And it's this hymn that makes a joyous ending possible.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Singing in foreign language).

SCHWARTZ: This exhilarating and moving "Marriage of Figaro" has the feel of great theater filled with both conversational interaction and private soul-searching. All these characters become touchingly vulnerable. Figaro is the first of Teodor Currentzis's project of recording Mozart's three operatic masterpieces with librettos by Lorenzo Da Ponte. "Cosi Fan Tutte" will be released later this year and "Don Giovanni" is scheduled for Fall, 2015. There are no international stars. Currentzis lets the composer be the star, and with Mozart, that's the highest star power there is.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz teaches in the creative writing MFA program at the University Massachusetts, Boston and is the senior editor of classical music for New York Arts. He reviewed the new Sony recording of Mozart's "the Marriage of Figaro" conducted by Teodor Currentzis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.