Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro
Il Conte – Christopher Maltman
La Contessa – Maria Bengtsson
Figaro – Luca Pisaroni
Susanna – Lucy Crowe
Cherubino – Renata Pokupic
Marcellina – Helene Schneiderman
Don Basilio – Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Don Curzio – Alasdair Elliott
Bartolo – Carlos Chausson
Antonio – Lynton Black
Barbarina – Mary Bevan
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / John Eliot Gardiner.
Stage Director – David McVicar
Royal Opera House, London. Monday, October 7th, 2013.
There are some works that just make the world a better place and Le Nozze di Figaro is certainly one of those. When that is combined with some fabulous performances in some of the leading roles and a conductor who completely understands the style and an orchestra at one with their conductor’s vision then for those four hours it can seem that there is no better place in the world.
So it was at the Royal Opera House on a Monday evening in October. John Eliot Gardiner conducted an orchestra on top form bringing out so many colours in the orchestration with tempi that for the most part were very well chosen. The way the orchestra constantly bubbled under the surface of the vocal lines was simply marvellous, the strings without vibrato, the winds characterful and some fantastically raspy brass playing on natural instruments. If I ever hear an opera house band play that score that well again, I would be amazed. It was a revelation.
The evening also benefitted from the peerless Figaro of Luca Pisaroni. Having seen him in Vienna last year I was aware of the quality of his interpretation but tonight he was superb, bringing all of the inflections of a native Italian speaker to the text. The voice was free and easy throughout the range and he was an incredibly effective stage presence. His chemistry with Lucy Crowe’s outstanding Susanna was irresistible. She was also fantastic, a delicious ‘deh vieni’ just capped a beautiful interpretation that had everything – vocal security, a glorious creamy tone and wonderful attention to text.
If the servants were exceptional I’m afraid their masters didn’t quite convince me as much. Christopher Maltman’s Count was portrayed in this staging as being particularly brutal and his characterization and vocalism certainly matched that portrayal. I just missed some subtlety and vocal elegance in his performance. Likewise I found Maria Bengtsson’s Countess, while undeniably very attractive in tone, a little on the small side and certainly sounding far too much like a Susanna than a Countess. I very much missed the originally scheduled Rebecca Evans who withdrew for health reasons.
The remainder of the cast was top class. It very much had the feeling of an ensemble show and as such it feels almost injudicious to single out individuals. The production, as I’ve felt with McVicar before, had all the slickness of a West End musical. There was a lot of stage business as if he was afraid to let the singers hold the stage on their own but otherwise it was unobtrusive enough and was a decent enough frame for the marvellous musical performance captured within.
This was a very special evening and one that will remain in the memory for a very long time. Despite some reservations regarding casting it was one of those shows where everything came together to create a magical evening that just did justice to Mozart’s glorious masterpiece. Stupendous.