Eleanora Buratto, Rosa Feola, Asude Karayavuz, Annalisa Stroppa; Antonio Poli, Mario Cassi; Speranza Scappucci, fortepiano, Philharmonia Chorus of Vienna, Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini, Riccardo Muti. Text and translations. Ducale 8011772000459 (3)
So the well-heeled Count and Countess Almaviva have a marriageable daughter on their hands, the mousy Inez, and a dowry hunter in cahoots with Figaro is closing in. But the girl's heart belongs to Cherubino, who shows up in disguise, aided and abetted by Susanna, the one in this menage who can really count the cards.
Welcome to Honoré-Antoine Richaud Martelly's Two Figaros, an unauthorized sequel to Pierre Beaumarchais's hit plays The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Mind you, Beaumarchais himself, perhaps rattled by revolution and scenting the imminent Terror to come, mapped out a quite different conclusion in his jittery, misanthropic tearjerker The Guilt-Wracked Mother.
Martelly's zany invention and knowing ironies chime better with the Beaumarchais posterity prefers to remember. Between 1820 and 1839, Felice Romani's libretto I Due Figaro attracted no fewer than five composers, each no doubt hoping his opera would make a third with Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Le Nozze di Figaro. For Saverio Mercadante's setting, the fourth, the time may have come at last. The modern premiere, led by Riccardo Muti — coproduced by the Salzburg Festival (Whitsun 2011), the Ravenna Festival and the Teatro Real de Madrid — reveals a lavish bel canto tapestry to rival Rossini for vocal verve and dazzle, even as its orchestral palette and formal sophistication hark back to Mozart.
Mercadante wrote I Due Figaro in 1826 for his first of a contracted seven seasons at the Teatro Príncipe of Madrid. The overture is a suite of Spanish dances, leading with a fandango, a likely homage to Mozart's Act III finale. Three strokes of the lower strings, a quarter note each, all on the pitch of A, sotto voce yet in charge: this is all it takes for Muti to whisk a listener to the opera's Spanish locale. Throughout, the excellent Philharmonia Chorus of Vienna, the crackerjack Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini and the discreetly sparkling Speranza Scappucci on fortepiano deliver impeccable musicianship imbued with kaleidoscopic fantasy.
The curtain rises on rustic celebrations that evoke, not for the last time, the frolics of L'Elisir d'Amore (to another libretto from Romani's prolific pen). The ten-minute introduction, in several sections, sets up a proto-Pirandellian metanarrative as well as the main intrigue. In an early trio, the Countess, Inez and Susanna vent smothered fury in rondo form as the choristers pipe up with a cheerful welcome. What are called arias commonly open out to include extra voices in emotional counterpoint, whether solo or choral.
Nowhere is the effect more magical than in a scena and aria for Cherubino in the home stretch of the opera. An adagio for French horn plunges the stage into twilight, preparing a plangent andante for the young lover as he faces the likely shipwreck of his hopes. We can easily guess that the interlude will end with galloping pyrotechnics. But before it does, the chorus shows up, country folk returning from their labors in the field, and the distraught figure they see in the shadows sets them softly but electrically abuzz like a swarm of panicky, compassionate elves.
The all-star cast Mercadante surely envisioned—Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato, Luca Pisaroni and Diana Damrau come to mind—has yet to be assembled, so with Muti's polished young artists, certain allowances are in order. Rosa Feola's flowery, soft-grained soprano meets the ingenue requirements of Inez just fine. As the Countess, here a mezzo, Asude Karayavuz articulates exquisitely, in delicately tinted tones that fail to blossom into radiance at the hopeful close of her aria. (It's a "Dove sono" moment.)
The Count's part is written for a tenor in the mold of Rossini's — an ideal that Antonio Poli, with his green, boyish sound and sketchy passagework, at best approximates. The never aging Cherubino, probably written for a castrato, falls to Annalisa Stroppa, a dark-hued and exciting mezzo. She makes a valiant showing, but though notes here and there have been adjusted for her, her struggle with the tessitura takes a toll.
Mario Cassi has the swagger and burly bass notes for Figaro's bluster and finds touching notes of melancholy in a lilting, minor-key siciliana with Susanna that is one of the wonders of the score. His Susanna is the enchantress Eleonora Buratto, who might work on her trill, but whose transparent timbre, warm-hearted personality and
jubilant musicianship set a high bar for future sopranos in this magnificent part.