Austria Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro: Soloists, Robin Ticciati (conductor), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus, Salzburg, 4.8.2011 (JFL)
Production Salzburg Festival
Direction: Claus Guth
Sets & Costumes: Christian Schmidt
Lighting: Olaf Winter
Choreography: Ramses Sigl
Dramaturgy: Ronny Dietrich
Conte Almamiva: Simon Keenlyside
Contessa Almaviva: Genia Kühmeier
Susanna: Marlis Petersen
Figaro: Erwin Schrott
Cherubino: Katija Dragojevic
Macellina: Marie McLaughlin
Bartolo: Franz-Josef Selig
Basilio: Patrick Henckens
Barbarina: Malin Chistensson
Don Curzio: Oliver Ringelhahn
Antonio: Adam Plachetka
Cherubim: Uli Kirsch
After seeing Claus Guth’s Salzburg Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte on DVD and Don Giovanni live in 2010 (review), the opportunity to experience the entire Mozart/Da Ponte cycle in one, more or less fell, swoop was one of the many draws for this year’s festival attendance. The trilogy has been made even more exciting (and possible, to begin with) by assigning the orchestra duty to three very different bands, promising plenty fresh air in already very fine productions of these standards. Les Musiciens du Louvre with Marc Minkowski for Così, the Vienna Philharmonic (as throughout the production’s lifetime) with Yannick Nézet-Séguin (who made all the difference) again for Don Giovanni, and for the Nozze at hand the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with the twenty-nine year old Robin Ticciati.
The staging itself had gone through a few, subtle metamorphoses, and had now, at its presumably last run, arrived at something very smart, slightly more conventional than it had started out at. Even in this incarnation, the production has a bristling, even sexual sensuality—as erotic as the libretto must have seemed to Mozart’s contemporaries, and never crossing into crude, or ostentatiously shocking territory. The action takes place in the slightly run down Count’s palace dominated by large staircases and populated by dead blackbirds and visual bonbons (not to say gimmicks) that please the eye even when they are not imperative elements of the plot.Guth’s Nozze catapulted itself into the headlines as the starriest of Salzburg’s 2006 “Mozart / 22” project of producing (and filming) all of Mozart’s operas. It had a starry cast headed by Anna Netrebko, a slightly stiff Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, the imposing Conte of Bo Skovhus, Dorothea Röschmann’s curiously attractive, sordidly desperate Contessa, and Christine Schäfer as a Cherubino to best all Cherubinos. The result, more compelling on DVD than CD (in part due to Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s self-consciously extreme—in either direction, though usually slow—tempos), set a high standard for ensemble acting not necessarily attained in its several incarnations since. The performers this year had big shoes to fill, and one of the happy surprises was how well they all compared to the original cast.
None of the singers gave any particular reason to grumble vocally; Katija Dragojevic’s Cherubino, with the most difficult task at hand (given Schäfer, who really must be seen to be believed) did splendidly in all her hyper-hormoned, pubescently sexed-up boyishness. Her fine, strong voice with a very slight, pleasant reedy character only added. Erwin Schrott occasionally fell into the trap of Figaroesque tomfoolery, but he’s too natural and sauve an actor on stage to ever ham it up too much or have Figaro become the insufferable oaf (a proto-Ochs) that many other baritones turn the poor character into. (Matthew Rose comes to mind.) More comfortable in the part’s lower register, his heights were muffled, but only marginally so.
Simon Keenlyside’s Count Almaviva didn’t have Skovhus’ physical or vocal presence and here and there he introduced an odd comical, befuddled note into the character (his rage wasn’t particularly believable and therefore the contrition not as crucial to the piece as it ought to be. Under the weight of dancer Uli Kirsch—the agile non-singing Fate/Cupid/Puck character Guth introduces—he nearly buckled. That character, a thorn in the eyes of some traditionalists, guides and manipulates the emotions of the protagonists until, in the final scene, they reject him, taking fate—at last—into their own hands. One can take or leave that visual-dramatic addition to the plot, but it takes a crustacean attitude to be particularly offended or even disturbed by it.
Genia Kühmeier, so neatly fitting into the dullness of last year’s Orfeo ed Euridice, played the Contessa very well, despite getting further away from youthful characters into matronly territory. Her voice was clear, seated at the back of the throat, tightly controlled and with richness beyond its actual volume. Marlis Petersen’s Susanna, in an interpretation toned down from previous runs, was sparkling and playful; a full-blooded actress that could make one forget her horse-hair straw blonde wig. Vocally very decent, a bit on the indistinctive side, but altogether a joy.
The orchestra opened with an explosive-aggressive, lean overture, fast and without any hint of a willingness to take prisoners. The brass had an edge and stuck its metaphorical head out of the shallow pit; the woodwinds were a colorful equal to the strings. The result was refreshingly bracing, but it wasn’t just that; Ticciati and Co. went on to produce beautiful colors in the more lyrical moments as well, and were an integral part of this year’s Nozze’s particular appeal.
Jens F. Laurson