Seeking Happiness: Le nozze di Figaro at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna

Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro.

Il Conte – Vito Priante
La Contessa – Mariangela Sicilia
Figaro – Davide Giangregorio
Susanna – Eleonora Bellocci
Cherubino – Cecilia Molinari
Marcellina – Laura Cherici
Don Basilio – Paolo Antognetti
Don Curzio – Cristiano Olivieri
Bartolo – Francesco Leone
Antonio – Dario Giorgelè
Barbarina – Patricia Daniela Fodor

Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna / Martijn Dendievel.
Stage director – Alessandro Talevi.

Teatro Comunale di Bologna – Comunale Nouveau, Bologna, Italy.  Saturday, May 20th, 2023.

While its emblematic home is being refurbished, the Teatro Comunale di Bologna has moved, for the next few seasons, to a temporary auditorium on the Bologna trade fair grounds.  It certainly looks a lot more glamourous than Cologne’s ersatz solution.  Seats are acceptable in comfort and are strategically placed in order to offer the best sightlines.  The sound is also fine, although not a patch on the Comunale itself.  That said, the site is relatively distant from downtown and a brisk thirty-minute walk to Bologna Centrale, the hub of Italy’s superb high speed rail system.  There are also far too few washrooms available for public use.  Given that the house is due to be based there for a few seasons, one hopes that they will be able to resolve the lack of washrooms as soon as possible – the lines during intermission were immense. 

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi

This new production of Le nozze di Figaro was confided to Alessandro Talevi.  The house has assembled two youthful casts, under the similarly youthful direction of Belgian conductor, Martijn Dendievel.  Given the nature of working in a temporary auditorium such as this, Talevi’s staging shows considerable ingenuity.  The sets, also by Talevi, consist of a set of blocks that can create a variety of enclosed spaces, for Figaro and Susanna’s bedroom or the Contessa’s boudoir, while in the final act, they separate to provide surfaces for characters to hide behind in the garden.  The windows in the set clearly also show the progression through Iberian daylight into night, lit by Teresa Nagel.  The benefit of Talevi’s set is that it gives the singers additional acoustic support – something invaluable in an unconventional auditorium such as this.  His personenregie creates vivid characters who genuinely relate to each other: the slapstick may have been played for laughs, but Talevi and his cast know that this work delves deep into what makes us human, both in happiness and in sadness.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi

There were some aspects of Talevi’s staging I found both random and superfluous.  Arias would often be accompanied by video imagery, for example images of sultry ladies as Cherubino sang ‘voi che sapete’, or scenes of war during ‘non più andrai’.  I don’t know why video of Figaro brandishing a lightsabre was shown during the Conte’s big Act 3 aria, but it was certainly arresting.  Perhaps the video served to provide views of characters’ inner thoughts; but the singers managed that perfectly well themselves without needing to add extraneous visual layers.  Otherwise, Talevi’s staging did what it needed to do.  It told a story, effectively and clearly, and created a world of genuine characters.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi

Musically, this was a performance that genuinely lived.  When I saw that revelatory Lohengrin here last year, I was struck by how much the orchestra really ‘sang’ their lines.  This was an impression confirmed today.  It was also my first opportunity to hear Dendievel conduct – and he is most definitely a name to watch.  His reading was full of grace and poetry, bringing out that miraculous dialogue between orchestral sections, giving the score a logic and beauty of phrasing that was implicitly cantabile.  I do wish that he had asked the strings to play senza vibrato throughout and some of his tempi were on the slow side.  That said, the way he brought out the constantly growing and accelerating Act 2 finale, starting from a very slow starting point, was magnetic.  He was clearly a galvanizing and supportive presence in the pit and the quality of the playing he obtained from the Comunale orchestra was exceptional.  The recitatives were imaginatively accompanied by a fortepiano.  The cast was entirely made up of Italian singers and this was apparent in the way Da Ponte’s text came to life.  Even if the pacing of some of the recitatives could have been tightened up, they lived simply because the singers invested the words with so much meaning and genuinely interacted with each other. 

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi

Davide Giangregorio gave us a lively account of the title role.  His bass is entirely healthy in tone, warm and rounded, and he filled his music with sheer wit and humanity, savouring the language, bringing out the beauty of those Italian vowels.  He was also a congenial stage presence.  As Susanna, Eleonora Bellocci sang her music in a bright, if shallow soprano, that had that irrepressible smile in the tone that all good Susannas should have.  Her ‘deh, vieni’ was sung with ravishing delicacy, the emission even throughout, and with a beguiling brightness to the tone.  Bellocci also blended pulchritudinously with Mariangela Sicilia’s Contessa in ther ‘canzonetta sull’aria’, both embellishing their lines to intertwine magically. 

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi

Sicilia’s Contessa was something really special.  Her soprano has a wonderfully creamy core to the tone and she sustained the long lines of ‘porgi amor’ with seemingly flawless beauty, despite an extremely slow tempo.  Her ‘dove sono’ was glorious.  Sicilia dug deep to find meaning in the text, using the words and embellishing the line to bring out both the heartache and the resolution.  It was magical.  As indeed was Cecilia Molinari’s Cherubino.  With her orange-toned mezzo, with a fizzy vibrato at the core, immaculate attention to text and implicit musicality brought out in her fabulous embellishments, she was fabulous.  In taking those risks to the line, she made the music her own.  Her Cherubino was filled with ardour, beauty of tone and, just like her castmates, she made the text live.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi

Vito Priante sang the Conte in a firm column of sound.  He was an extrovert stage presence, spitting out the text with frustrated malice, yet finding a honeyed warmth in his closing imprecations to the Contessa.  I did find that his Act 3 aria found him with a tendency to hector, losing the core of the tone, however.  The remainder of the cast reflected the extremely high standards one has come to expect at this address.  Patricia Daniela Fodor sang Barbarina in a warm soprano with easy vibrations.  Laura Cherici sounded rather taxed by the relatively high tessitura of Marcellina’s writing, but she compensated with a deliciously witty stage presence.  Paolo Antognetti, Cristiano Olivieri, Francesco Leone and Dario Giorgelè all provided reliable support in the remaining roles, the text crackling with life.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi

This was a very special Figaro.  We were given a logical staging, that allowed the action to unfold naturally.  It was conducted with true musicality and genuine poetry, even if some of the tempi were a bit too slow.  The singing was full of life, enhanced throughout the cast by some fabulously musical embellishments to the line that genuinely pulled us in.  It was, without doubt, a terrific evening.  The audience reacted with frequent and generous applause, with a huge roar of satisfaction at the final curtain.  As the cast sang those glorious soaring phrases of ‘Ah! Tutti contenti saremo così’, it was a reminder that as humans our most basic desire is to be happy.  And a performance such as this made me – and indeed the entire audience – very happy indeed. 

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