Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro.
Il Conte – Gerald Finley
La Contessa – Véronique Gens
Figaro – Luca Pisaroni
Susanna – Anita Hartig
Cherubino – Cecelia Hall
Marcellina – Heike Grötzinger
Don Basilio – Alexander Kaimbacher
Don Curzio – Kevin Conners
Bartolo – Georg Zeppenfeld
Antonio – Peter Lobert
Barbarina – Elsa Benoit
Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Ivor Bolton
Stage Director – Dieter Dorn.
Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Friday, December 12th, 2014.
This year I have had the pleasure of seeing four different productions of Le nozze di Figaro and tonight’s was certainly a memorable evening. Earlier this year I saw a terrific revival at the Royal Opera, notable for a superlative Countess and Cherubino, then I saw another in Kraków notable for an outstanding Figaro and Count. Recently I also saw Fiona Shaw’s production at English National Opera. That was nicely cast with a group of very promising young singers together with some experienced ones. It was however ruined by being performed in an unmusical English translation.
Tonight’s performance was a revival of Dieter Dorn’s 1997 staging. It showed the level of casting available to the Bayerische Staatsoper – surely now in the top 3 opera houses in Europe, if not the world. It was graced by the presence of experienced and new talent and was a life-enhancing evening in the way only the very best performances of Figaro can be. Dorn’s staging was however problematic in that the action was constantly being held up to accommodate stage ‘business’ and consequently, the recitatives were taken at a more deliberate speed. Interestingly this was exactly the same problem I found in Warlikowski’s Don Giovanni in Brussels last weekend. This meant that the tension sagged between numbers, mitigating the wonderful effect created by Ivor Bolton’s witty and vibrant conducting. I never thought I’d say this, but I missed the slickness and fluency of David McVicar’s Royal Opera staging. He had a much stronger grasp of the need to pace the work that Dorn did here. This was particularly notable in Act 4 where, since we lost a couple of arias, the oceans of recitatives started to feel interminable.
The sets (Jürgen Rose) were ingenious. A simple white background became transparent as Susanna called out for her lover and Figaro could be seen behind wanting to hold her. What was notable about this production was that characters who wouldn’t normally have seen events taking place, would often be hiding or appearing before their entry. This added a level of tension that one would not normally have but any tension that was gained was subsequently lost through the pacing. It was an interesting production but hardly revelatory. If they could just tighten things up a little, it would be a fully effective framework for this miraculous score to take place in.
Musically, there were some small issues – coordination between pit and stage went awry at a few points, not helped with the singers spending so much time upstage. There were a couple of missed entries too. That said, all of these are part of the energy of a live performance and there are times when things don’t quite absolutely go the way they are expected to. I had the pleasure of seeing Luca Pisaroni last fall at the Royal Opera and tonight again he was a sensational Figaro. The way he phrases the text is so completely idiomatic and the voice is in such fantastic shape that everything sounds effortless. He is charming and he is also a witty and warm stage presence. He also manages to encapsulate all of the facets of the character from the disappointment of Susanna’s suspected betrayal to his anger at the Count to that beautiful moment where Susanna and Figaro find peace again. All of these were achieved through a glorious alchemy of words and music that was simply terrific.
Anita Hartig was a bright and glamorous Susanna. There is a smile in the voice which is utterly irresistible and she gave us a charming ‘deh vieni’. The tone is perhaps somewhat anonymous and she pushed a little in the Act 2 finale which meant the voice was inclined to sharpness. She is undoubtedly a very interesting singer and I look forward to hearing more of her. Cecelia Hall’s Cherubino was nicely boyish in demeanour and was certainly obsessed by any lady who came in his path. Her approach was somewhat generalized but it’s certainly an interesting voice. Gerald Finley’s Count was a malicious and threatening stage presence. He sang his Act 3 set piece with wonderful sweep and easy phrasing. The remainder of the cast was at the level one would expect from a house such as this. I particularly enjoyed Heike Grötzinger’s fruity Marcellina and as always it was a shame she was denied her aria.
Then there was Véronique Gens’ Countess. Gens is one of those very rare singers, one who from a single note you recognize her instrument instantly. The voice is rich and warm and has a rare beauty that is genuinely aristocratic. She completely encapsulated the emotions of her character – from the fun of trying to dupe the Count to the pain of someone who yearns for the good days that are no longer. ‘Porgi amor’ was sung in long phrases with beguiling beauty of tone and her presence added warmth and generosity to the ensembles. Then there was ‘dove sono’. In those four minutes we heard everything that makes Gens’ singing special – long lines, beauty of tone, warmth of sound and impeccably stylish ornamentation. That description might sound clinical but it was anything but, it was unbearably moving just as her lines of forgiveness to the Count were. Indeed, as with the very best Countesses, one becomes aware at that moment of something greater than humanity itself and the genius of Mozart came shining through.
As I mentioned above Ivor Bolton’s conducting was terrific. He brought out so many voices in the orchestration that are often lost and, as in the best Figaros, one was consciously aware of the interplay between voices and orchestra and within the orchestra itself. Tempi were well chosen, always nicely swift and I particularly enjoyed the way he worked the different sections of the Act 2 ensemble in to a gradually accelerating whole. The orchestra was on good form. Natural trumpets and hard timpani sticks were a real bonus. If only the horns had also played on natural instruments. The string sound was nice and lean and attack was sharp. I would have preferred a little less vibrato but that is of course, personal taste. Ornamentation was a bit inconsistent but when it was present, it really benefitted the work and made it live even more.
This was one of those evenings that renewed one’s faith in humanity in only the way Figaro can. It was performed by an outstanding cast, anchored by some truly great performances. It was a life-enhancing experience and one that will be very difficult to forget. Outstanding.