Le Nozze di Figaro from Salzburg

Watching Le Nozze di Figaro from Salzburg, 2006, directed by Claus Guth, we were pleasantly surprised. We had read a review stating that Susanna was in love with the Count and we had been very sceptical about this interpretation feeling that such an infatuation would be beneath the bright Susanna. Luckily, we think this must have been a misunderstanding on that particular reviewer’s part, even though it’s clear that the Susanna of this production is not the usual one.

The usual Susanna would be in a balanced and happy relationship with Figaro and feeling nothing but contempt and disgust for the covetous Count. And we like that. She is the perfect heroine and the true main character of the opera.

In this version however Susanna is the epitome of the modern woman who fails to find a satisfying match. Consequently she tries to settle with Figaro who looks good on paper all the while pursuing a strictly physical attraction towards the Count well aware that she is not in love and that it’s not fruitful. At times it went a little overboard ending up portraying her as too cold and calculating. As when she after a deeply felt duet with the Count goes on to laughing at him with Figaro.

We do prefer the traditional Susanna since she represents a positive role model but unfortunately it’s much easier to relate to this new Susanna which makes this staging very interesting.

Susanna and Cupid
Flirting with Love.

This leads us to an important point that we keep returning to when discussing opera stagings in general: that we aren’t necessarily looking for the ideal (in the Platonic sense) staging. That being one that we agree with entirely. What we are definitely looking for every time we go to the Opera is a wholesome and intelligent interpretation that’s not afraid of its own statements. This Figaro has all that.

The interpretation isn’t limited to Susanna’s part and the modern woman, it extents to modern society and discusses choosing between love and reason. Love is personified by a dancer playing Cupid who in most of the opera controls the characters but who is ultimately rejected by them when they return to their spouses and forget about ever loving for real.

Susanna and Figaro
Love trouble.

In the art direction leaves and dead birds flood the floors of the elegant mansion, paint peels off the walls and the gardener Antonio smears dirt onto the white panels. We interpret this as the outer result of refusing to deal with love and believe that you can survive without it. This might seem banal but as the scenography and performances are so very realistic and earnest you can’t but take it to heart.

As for the musical performances we are more than content.

Anna Netrebko reveals herself once again as a very good and subtle actress.
Ildebrando d’Arcangelo plays a convincing trophy husband with a certain yuppie style. He managed shaving down his performance to a very discreet and pokerfaced Figaro.

Bo Boje Skovhus, this menacing barytone, surprisingly succeeded in adapting himself to the staging which demanded a feeble, cold sweating and essentially soft man. He portrays the Count as genuinely torn between his life companion and a young, attractive woman. He seems to be the only person in love. Not even with an axe in his hands (as in the second act) does he manage to get that ”heeeere’s Johnny-”air and that is some achievement when you consider that he normally terrifies us. We’re not kidding, he really scares us with his tall, steely-faced blondness.

The Count
The Count trying to find himself.

Dorothea Röschmann is touching as the tormented Countess. She’s the character closest to a traditional interpretation, but it works even with different co-characters.

Count and Countess

The Count and the Countess missing each other again.

Christine Schäfer is a wonderfully androgynous Cherubino serving as a kind of doppelgänger and companion to Cupid (who by the way was marvellously portrayed by cherubic dancer Uli Kirsch). If you consider her sensually feminine Donna Anna, from the same year’s Don Giovanni, the transformation is unbelievable.

Cherubino and Cupid
Cherubino with his only ally.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s conducting was in keeping with the rest of the staging in as much as he kept the pace to a dolorous lento which he bases on research etc. etc. but we are not buying all of it. At times it’s just too slow, making the singers struggle and disturbing the relation between the agitated action and the music. For example in the scene where Susanna helps Cherubino to flee out of the window where the director has tried to make ends meet by having the characters move in slow motion. We were longing for the musical energy that traditionally characterises this scene.

All in all a refreshing Figaro which really gave us food for thought. In a certain sense an ideal production in as much as it was solid and stood up for itself and its statements. We love that – that’s really all we ask for.

/anna & marie

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February 3, 2007. Music, Opera, Reviews.

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