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La Scala still retains a certain mystique, a sort of holy of holies where opera is performed to the highest standards. As the three operas in this collection show, to some extent this is true as there is a certain polish to the performances – a sense of everything working as planned and organised. But within this framework there isn’t much sense of ensemble or spontaneity, although it does have to be said that both orchestra and chorus are generally on top form throughout.

The most dispiriting performance is of Le nozze di Figaro in 2006. Gerard Korsten’s conducting starts with good intentions and some interesting nuances, but soon becomes routine. Maybe he’s just dispirited by what’s happening on stage. Giorgio Strehler’s staging is a classic, but has surely been superseded in originality; it looks fine enough, but after more than 25 years this revival is business as usual. Diana Damrau’s Susanna does everything she can to enliven proceedings and she remains fresh and vivacious throughout. Pietro Spagnoli’s Conte also has dramatic flair and a solid technique for this difficult role. The titular Figaro, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, remains more one-dimensional and he provides little vocal or dramatic nuance. Where Marcella Orsatti Talamanca came from or went to I don’t know, but her Contessa is a weak link. Monica Bacelli’s Cherubino looks and sounds mature.

Simon Boccanegra offers a rather wan Plácido Domingo in the title role, failing to dominate his Council Chamber and only coming into his own in his dying moments. Fabio Sartori is the best thing here vocally with his rich and idiomatic tenor, though acting doesn’t over-bother him. Anja Harteros balances some ravishing phrasing and melting pianissimi with some hard-toned high notes. Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Fiesco is a characteristically fine assumption. Daniel Barenboim’s conducting is precise and often beautiful, but he eschews light for shade, unbalancing the score. Federico Tiezzi’s magnificently traditional but gloomy production abets him in this.

Maria Stuarda is a more interesting affair. Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production is a complex metal framework providing a fluid space to work within. Anna Caterina Antonacci finds Elisabetta a very congenial role vocally and dramatically and she makes the most of it. Francesco Meli is an ardent Leicester and Simone Alberghini a sonorous Talbot. Mariella Devia is not the most natural stage creature but vocally this is a lesson in bel canto. Her style is immaculate – this is old-fashioned singing and it’s wonderful to hear. Antonino Fogliani supports his divas in the pit.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Opera Now, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing