In 2006, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth, the Salzburg Festival set itself the task of producing all 22 of Mozart's operas, and this recording of highlights from Le nozze di Figaro is a result of a live performance. Nikolaus Harnoncourt's reading of the score is marvelously nuanced; it's clear that the performance reflects a lifetime of living with and performing the opera. His dramatic pace tends toward briskness, which works well in a work as wordy as this. He's especially skillful at bringing out the instrumental colors of the score, particularly of the winds and timpani; he makes the listener especially aware of the inventiveness, cleverness, and subtlety of Mozart's orchestration. The Vienna Philharmonic and Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor perform with finesse, warmth, and sensitivity to the opera's poignancy and humor.
The singers are both dramatically and vocally superb; this is probably as close to a dream cast for the opera as one is likely to get. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo and Anna Netrebko are completely winning as Figaro and Susanna, and there's real chemistry between them. D'Arcangelo is an embodiment of Mediterranean masculinity; his dark and supple baritone is in the service of a portrayal that's both ferociously impetuous and goofily playful, without ever compromising his dignity. Netrebko is adorably girlish, but her Susanna is obviously the most grounded and grown-up character in the opera. Her voice is silken, velvety, and infinitely expressive. Bo Skovhus' Count is a genuinely creepy character, alternating between furtiveness and bluster, but his tone is consistently round and robust. Dorothea Röschmann's large soprano is incisive and richly textured. She brings a deep sense of resignation and anger to the to Countess; at the opera's end there's little assurance that she will find joy with the Count again. Christine Schäfer's Cherubino is jaw-droppingly assured; she spins out her lines with abandon and exquisite musicality. As Basilio, Patrick Henckens manages to sound lyrical and full-bodied, and at the same time convey his character's unctuousness. Franz-Josef Selig's Bartolo is splendidly gruff and Marie McLaughlin is hilarious as Marcellina, but her voice seems a little inflexible. The sound is remarkably fine for a live recording; it's bright and clear, as well as warm and intimate, and the singers' volume levels are steady despite their movement around the stage.