Mostly Mozart Festival (4): Le nozze di Figaro All Dressed Up

Mostly Mozart Festival (4), Le nozze di Figaro (Mostly Mozart première), Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer (conductor), Rose Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, 11-8-2013 (SSM)

Photo: MOZART: Le nozze di Figaro ; Budapest Festival Orchestra with Iván Fischer, conductor and director; performance photographed: Sunday, August 11, 2013;  5:00 PM at Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center; New York, NY. Photograph: © 2013 Richard Termine. Photo Credit: Photo by Richard Termine
Photo: MOZART: Le nozze di Figaro ; Budapest Festival Orchestra with
Iván Fischer Photograph: © 2013 Richard Termine.
Photo Credit: Photo by Richard Termine

Hanno Müller-Brachmann – Figaro
Laura Tatulescu – Susanna
Roman Trekel – Count Almaviva
Miah Persson – Countess Almaviva
Rachel Frenkel – Cherubino
Ann Murray – Marcellina
Andrew Shore – Bartolo
Rodolphe Briand – Don Basilio/Don Curzio
Norma Nahoun – Barbarina
Matte Peirone – Antonio

Gyorgyi Szakacs – Costume Design
Andrew Hill – Lighting Design
Darren Ross – Movement Director
Viktoria Vamos – Choreographer
Ivan Fischer, Director

Given that the Mostly Mozart calendar consists largely of traditional performances of traditional works, expectations were high for Ivan Fischer’s return to the Festival. His radical production two years ago of Don Giovanni was performed to great acclaim (including mine). That opera was starkly staged in a more intimate theater than the Rose, with scenery and props wholly created from the contortions of a group of mimes. The vision of that performance emphasized the existential issues inherent in the opera. It was effective as both powerful theater and musical performance.

Sometimes the success of daring, anti-establishment events creates an environment that results in a roughing-out of the edginess of subsequent creations. This production of Le nozze di Figaro avoided the pitfalls that might have occurred had Fischer picked a Mozart opera fashioned as a dramma per musica (Idomeneo) or an opera seria (La Clemeza di Tito) rather than choosing an opera buffa. But as far as Le nozze goes, this staging could be considered conservative compared to Peter Sellar’s 1988 version. The action in that production takes place in the Trump Tower on New York’s posh Fifth Avenue. Cherubino is an awkward teenager; the Count, a business magnate; Susanna, a maid who lives in the building’s laundry room; and Don Basilio, a sleazy, small-time crook.

Fischer’s production is nowhere near Sellar’s in its eccentricity. First, it is not a fully staged production. Fischer refers to it as a “staged concert,” and the action occurs on platforms set between the left and right halves of the orchestra. Characters coming on or off stage negotiate a path between orchestra members. At the back of the stage is a rack of dresses as would be found in a dressing room, and the opera’s opening scene has the characters putting on and taking off costumes to emphsize the role these clothes will play in the action. In a sense, though, there is little need to emphasize the importance of costume: Mozart himself is doing that. Operas and plays of this time and earlier abounded in “pants roles,” and ploys involving changed costumes and changed identities were common. Cherubino is the paradigm of gender switching: a woman dressed as a man who dresses up as a woman. A masked ball hides the characters’ identities in Don Giovanni, and in Cosi Fan Tutti, Ferrando and Guglielmo diguise themselves to test their fiancees’ fidelity.

Fischer’s Don Giovanni existed outside of time. Le nozze exists in an anachronistic world where most of the actors don outfits of the period but some don’t (Bartolo, for example, wears a modern day business suit). Fischer himself conducts standing or sitting in a chair to the right of the stage to avoid being part of the action, but at times he couldn’t avoid it: most amusingly, he is included in the repartee during the duet, “Crudel! Perché finora.”

The only stage props that are particularly striking are the mannequins dressed in 18th -century garb which hang above the stage, dropping down or rising back up as needed. For a moment when they first descended, I thought that they were really actors. Now, that would have been a theatrical coup.

The vocal performances were close enough to perfect to seem almost natural: the normal communication between characters as opposed to the more heightened artifice of many operas arias. Laura Tatulescu was a convincing Susanna. After an initially weak opening aria, “Porgi Amor,” Miah Persson settled in as a strong and stunning Countess, receiving a deserved round of applause for the aria “Dove Sono.” Hanno Müller-Brachmann, both as actor and singer, was somewhat weak as Figaro. On the other hand, Rachel Frenkel had a strong and secure voice, almost too strong for the ingenue role of Cherubino. The laureled baritone Andrew Shore was a bit wobbly initially but shortly steadied himself as Barolo. Ann Murray as Marcellina wouldn’t even have had to sing − which, of course, she thankfully did − to receive warm applause from the audience.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra, often listed in the top ten orchestras of the world, continued holding their place with a peerless accompaniment. Fischer claims that he is “going through a personal metamorphosis, changing from a conductor into the dual role of conductor/stage director.” As interesting as he is as a stage director, Fischer has a long history as a well-respected and honored conductor, and one hopes his role as Maestro will not be put aside.

Stan Metzger