Women Lead the Way in Geneva’s Nozze di Figaro

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro: Soloists, Chorus of the “Grand Théâtre” (Ching-Lien Wu), Continuo: Xavier Dami, Swiss Romande Orchestra, Stefan Soltesz (conductor) Geneva Grand Théâtree, Geneva, 9.9.2013 (AL)

Malin Byström as La Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro  Photo (c) GTG/Vincent Lepresle
Malin Byström as La Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro. Photo (c) GTG/Vincent Lepresle

Count: Bruno Taddia
Countess: Malin Byström
Figaro: David Bizic
Susanna: Nataliya Kovalova
Cherubino: Maria Kataeva
Marcellina: Marta Márquez
Bartolo: Christophoros Stambogis
Don Basilio: Raul Gimenez
Don Curzio: Fabrice Farina
Barbarina: Elisa Cenni
Antonio: Piet Vansichen
Two young girls: Victoria Martynenko, Johanna Rittiner-Sermier

Director: Guy Joosten
Sets: Johannes Leiacker
Costumes: Karin Seydtle

Geneva officially kicked off its 2013-2014 musical season with a revival of  Antwerp Opera’s 1995 staging of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.

Any risks of under-characterization – often associated with revivals and production-sharing –  were quickly dispelled. This was a well-rehearsed performance with tons of ideas to take advantage of the density of Mozart and Da Ponte’s work. Perhaps there were too many ideas. Joosten set the action in the 1950s, with reminiscences of Jean Renoir’s 1939 “La régle du Jeu” which mixes the lives of masters and servants in a dramatic manner. However, this caused confusion in many places. Would the Count really accept passively so much display of aggression from his staff? Also, at several points repeated heavy jokes created some tediousness.

But Figaro is a rich opera, and when Joosten’s ideas worked, they really worked well. Cherubino’s jumping out of the window was unexpected (I won’t say more in order not to spoil it for future audiences). The Count’s reaction to the gay couple of Don Curzio and Don Basilio joining the others to be married in Act 3 was really funny. The Countess reading “Le Figaro”, France’s equivalent of The Times was also genuinely hilarious.  Best was the touching image of the Countess, moved by Susanna’s “Deh Vienni,” helping us understand that regardless of all that took place she had lost something which Susanna was now getting. Here was musical theater at its purest.

As it is often the case in Geneva, promising young singers made up the cast. Two years ago Swedish soprano Malin Byström sang Hélène in Verdi’s Les vêpres siciliennes, and Geneva was right to get her back for the Countess. She has superb high notes, phrases beautifully, can act and has movie-star looks. She is due to sing Arabella in New York this season and has already appeared in Salzburg and London. Her agenda may fill very fast so Geneva would be wise to keep her signed for future seasons. Next to her, Bruno Taddia’s Count was underpowered and miscast. David Bizic as Figaro and Maria Kataeva as Cherubino were more in their element although both were a little pale. Nataliya Kovalova was a technically secure Susanna with strong projection, and her darker tone was a good complement to Byström’s more silvery style. As Barbarina, Elisa Cenni was as delightful as could be.

Rossini veteran Raul Gimenez was a superb piece of casting as Don Basilio. His projection and sense of comic timing remain impeccable. He stole every scene he was in and should have been allowed his last-act aria.

The orchestral accompaniment was a disappointment. Vocal ensembles were clean and conductor Stefan Soltesz showed care for his singers, but the orchestra as a whole lacked presence and individuality. The dance music in Act 3, so full of seductive undertones, menaces and sexual tension, was uncommonly flat. Recitatives on the other hand were crisp and theatrical, earning continuo player Xavier Dami deserved applause from his fellow musicians.

The season at Geneva’s Grand Théâtre will continue with several ambitious works, the highlight of which will definitely be the completion of Wagner’s Ring under the team of Dieter Dorn and Ingo Metzmacher. There will be some rarities such as Catalani’s La Wally with Barbaro Fritolli and Gregory Kunde; Anna-Caterina Antonacci in Ernest Reyer’s Sigurd, a French take on the Nibelungen tales; and Heiner Goebbels’s staging of Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury. Verdi’s Nabucco, Strauss’s French version of Die Fledermaus and recitals by the likes of Jonas Kaufmann, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Leo Nucci and Soile Isokoski will also be there for the less adventurous.

Antoine Leboyer

Premiere : 09/09/13
Other performances: Sept 11, 13, 15, 17, 19 – all performances at 19 h 30 except Sunday 15 at 15 h 30.