Life is a Rollercoaster: Le nozze di Figaro at the Kongelige Teater, Copenhagen

Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro.

Il Conte – Palle Knudsen
La Contessa – Sine Bundgaard
Figaro – Simon Duus
Susanna – Sofie Elkjær Jensen
Cherubino – Kari Dahl Nielsen
Marcellina – Johanne Bock
Don Basilio – Michael Kristensen
Don Curzio – Michael Kristensen
Bartolo – Morten Staugaard
Antonio – Joel Kyhle
Barbarina – Renate Ekerhovd

Det Kongelige Operakor, Concerto Copenhagen / Alexis Kossenko.
Stage Director – Elisa Kragerup.

Det Kongelige Teater, Gamle Scene, Copenhagen, Denmark.  Saturday, September 15th, 2018.

In what seem to be the interminable dark days in which we live, the need for art and culture to provide hope and give light in the darkness is more pressing than ever.  In many respects, Le nozze di Figaro, is the piece for our times.  It explores the use of sexuality to exploit; yet it also provides the optimism that comes from working together and the triumph of the everywoman and man in showing the elite the error of his ways.  Not to mention that magical moment of forgiveness and humanity at the end, that melts this spectator every time.

Photo: © Camilla Winther

The main attraction of this revival of Elisa Kragerup’s staging (tonight revived by Anne Fugl) was the presence of the excellent period-instrument band, Concerto Copenhagen, in the pit.  Except they weren’t actually in the pit.  Rather the orchestra became the living centrepiece of Kragerup’s staging, their presence reinforcing the fact that there really was no privacy for anyone at the Palace of Aguasfrescas, here transformed into a funfair.  Indeed, the initial ‘f’ in the sign fell off to suggest what I wager was what the characters thought of the events taking place.  The strength of Kragerup’s staging is that she manages to make the comedy work, the audience audibly devouring it with pleasure, yet never loses sight of the fact that this is a work populated by real people with real emotions.  For Susanna and Figaro, it’s their deep love for each other; for the Contessa, it’s the sense of loneliness and memories of better days, movingly illustrated in a ‘dove sono’ that saw her moving through the orchestra, trailed by a spotlight.  The palace may be full of people, but her loneliness was beautifully illustrated.

Photo: © Camilla Winther

Another aspect that Kragerup successfully develops was how everyone in the palace is obsessed by sex.  I loved how she gave her female characters, in particular, so much more agency in that respect than one so often sees.  The Contessa invited Cherubino to devour her intimate area orally, while Susanna used ‘deh vieni’ as a knowing expression of her sexuality.  Overall, this was an assured and successful piece of theatrical storytelling.  I admit to having been skeptical in the first few minutes – having the characters run around and ride on the rollercoaster that surrounded the orchestra was rather distracting.  I was also not quite convinced by how Kragerup staged the opening of Act 4, with characters sitting miming something – what it was, I have no idea.

Photo: © Camilla Winther

The noise in the overture was especially disappointing because it distracted from the excellent start to the evening given to us by Concerto Copenhagen, the opening measures instantly raising the spirits and putting a smile on the face.  Their playing gave so much pleasure throughout – the piquant clarinets penetrating through the textures, the delightfully raucous horns making a fabulous noise.  String intonation was absolutely true all night.  There was something wonderfully alive and physical about their playing.  Recitatives were well paced and accompanied on the harpsichord by Marcus Mohlin.  Of course, personally, I would have preferred to have had a fortepiano, also participating within the orchestral texture – but that is a matter of personal taste.  Alexis Kossenko’s tempi were judiciously chosen, always fluent, and allowed the action to unfold splendidly.  He was also very game, participating with glee in the machinations of the characters and engaging with them as part of the plot.  Ornamentation, essential in this repertoire, was unfortunately barely explored – certainly a few more appoggiature would have been welcome.

Photo: © Camilla Winther

The singing was always honourable and frequently much more than that.  Simon Duus was a wonderfully vivid Figaro.  He successfully mapped his character’s emotional journey from love to jealousy, as well as his ingenuity in running rings around the Conte.  Indeed, I’ve never heard ‘aprite un po’ quegl’occhi’ sung with such violent jealousy before.  His rustic yet handsome baritone was always sung off the text and he was a highly engaging stage presence.  As was Sofie Elkjær Jensen’s Susanna.  The role could have been written for her juicy, sappy soprano and vivacious stage presence.  She illustrated Susanna’s journey through vivid facial expressions and an irresistible smile in the voice, culminating in a delectable ‘deh vieni’.  With time, she will undoubtedly bring out a richer palette of tonal colours – and make more of the text.

Photo: © Camilla Winther

Sine Bundgaard was a fine Contessa, sung in a big, generous soprano.  The cleanness of her legato was impressive and she was a warm and positive vocal presence in the ensembles, even if, on occasion, the vibrations loosened.  She sang both her arias with warmth and dignity.  Palle Knudsen was a similarly aristocratic Conte, the owner of a healthy, resonant baritone.  He turned the corners nicely in his aria.  Kari Dahl Nielsen’s Cherubino threw herself into everything asked of her.  It sounded to my ears that the voice needed a little longer to warm up in ‘non so più’, somewhat tight on top, but she warmed up nicely to give us a warmly lyrical ‘voi che sapete’.  The embellishments that she brought to the line gave her singing genuine individuality.  In the remaining roles, Johanne Bock sang Marcellina in a large, fruity contralto – sadly deprived of her aria, as is so often the case.  Michael Kristensen was a deliciously camp Curzio and Basilio, his tenor somewhat dry but full of character.  Morten Staugaard sang with a cavernous bass and Renate Ekerhovd was a silvery, crystalline Barbarina.  The chorus was fine in their brief interjections – although the ladies were somewhat on the blowzy side.

Photo: © Camilla Winther

This was a highly enjoyable Figaro.  Kragerup gave us a staging that was full of laughs but always allowed us to remember that these are real people who live with all of the emotions that life can bring.  The audience loved it – greeting the cast at the end of the evening with a warm and generous ovation.  Musically, there were many rewards, not least in Duus’ Figaro, Jensen’s Susanna and the playing of that terrific orchestra.  What tonight also confirmed was the excellence of the Kongelige Teater, both in the musical and in the production values on offer.  A very satisfying evening and precisely what was needed in these dark days.

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