A Figaro That Could Not Be More Perfect  

03/11/2014

SwedenSweden Mozart: The Marriage of FigaroSoloists, chorus, Gothenburg Opera Orchestra, Jane Glover (conductor 27.09.2014), Patrik Ringborg (conductor 31.10.2014) Gothenburg Opera, 27.09.2014/31.10.2014

 

Figaro Gothenburg1 (1)-500

Count Almaviva (Thomas Oliemans) and Susanna (Ida Falk Winland) Photo: Mats Bäcker

Cast:
Count Almaviva: Thomas Oliemans / Åke Zetterström
Countess Almaviva: Malin Hartelius
Susanna: Ida Falk Winland / Sofie Asplund
Figaro: Markus Schwartz / Daniel Hällström
Cherubino: Anna Grevelius / Ann-Kristin Jones
Marcellina: Carolina Sandgren
Doctor Bartolo: Mats Almgren
Basilio: Iwar Bergkwist
Don Curzio: Erik Enqvist
Barbarina: Hanna Brehmer / Anna Johansson
Antonio: Peter Loguin
Two flowergirls: Anna Johansson, Marie-Louise Granström

 

Production:
Gothenburg Opera
Direction: Stephen Langridge
Costume design and set: George Souglides
Lighting: Giuseppe di Iorio
Choreography: Dan O’Neill

 

In the programme to the Gothenburg Opera’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro the director Stephen Langridge (in his first season as Artistic Director at Gothenburg) writes: “I have looked but not been able to find another work that comes so close to perfection as The Marriage of Figaro”. His production then goes on to prove how right this contention is in every dimension.

George Souglides’ set makes the walls and doors of Almaviva’s palace transparent to the audience and brings a beautiful lightness and elegance to the staging. He is ably assisted by Giuseppe di Iorio’s wonderfully atmospheric lighting.

Mr Langridge keeps the action in the same location but moves it forward to the final years of the Franco regime in Spain in the 1970s. This involves no violence to the plot and allows some lovely comic touches, in particular Cherubino’s rock-star act in “Voi che sapete” and Figaro’s sky-blue wedding suit (and disco steps!). The direction and choreography are particularly fine in the ensemble scenes where the interaction between the characters is perfect, as is the elegant choreography of the chorus scenes. Moving the Countess’ “Dove sono” to straight after the Count’s “Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro” was inspired – thanks to the set the Countess sings of her determination to regain Almaviva’s love while the audience sees him presiding over the rigged hearing which will force Figaro to marry Marcellina in the room behind.

Malin Hartelius as the Countess was a revelation, both in ensemble scenes and in her solo arias. Her characterisation was a fine mix of regret for the past when Almaviva was a loving husband with a determination to try to regain his love and at the same time help Susanna escape his clutches. Her “Porgi, Amor” was beautifully sensitive, a window on the Countess’ emotions but without histrionics. “Dove sono” was just as sensitive but also showed the steel of her determination. In both arias Ms Hartelius pianissimo had the audience spellbound. This is probably the nearest anyone of my age can come to hearing live a voice of the character and beauty of an Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.

 

 

The casting of Mats Almgren and Carolina Sandgren as Doctor Bartolo and Marcellina is inspired. Mr Almgren’s fruity bass is a perfect fit for the voice of a distinguished elder citizen, but he could also let himself go with terrific venom in “La vendetta”. Ms Sandgren’s rich soprano also fitted the age of her character and provided a nice vocal contrast with Susanna. Her glamourous characterisation was also superb, both before and after she discovers that Figaro is her son. It was absolutely right that Ms Sandgren got the rare opportunity to perform Marcellina’s aria “Il capro e la capretta”.

The other supporting roles were also in good hands, in particular Iwar Bergkwist’s Basilio, who in this production is a peeping-tom priest who spends much of his time peering through keyholes or expertly adding comedy to ensemble scenes. Peter Loguin was also delightful as the sozzled gardener Antonio.

The other main roles have two soloists, with all performances from 31 October using the second cast (see cast list above). Mr Langridge clearly allowed the different soloists to explore different characterisations of their roles, with the Count being a case in point.

Thomas Oliemans gave Almaviva the oily personality of a practised adulterer but also a real sense of danger. His anger in discovering that someone is hidden in the Countess’ rooms in Act 2 was not comic but deadly serious – when the Count returns with a crowbar to force open the locked door of the closet he also brings a gun, and in Oliemans’ characterisation would undoubtedly have shot Cherubino had he found him there. Add a warm, confident and expressive baritone and Mr Oliemans makes a sensational Count.

Åke Zetterström did not endow his Count with the same deadliness but added a languid charm that reminded me of an Oscar Wilde dandy. This made the Count’s anger less frightening but Mr Zetterström’s Count also seemed more genuinely remorseful, in particular in Act 2 when he finds he has dragged Susanna, rather than Cherubino, out of the closet.

Markus Schwartz’s Figaro had superb comic timing and brought out his cheekiness to his boss. Mr Schwartz’s baritone is both mellow and nimble and gelled perfectly with his fellow soloists in the ensembles. He could also be very expressive, especially in the bitterness of betrayal in his aria in Act 4. Ida Falk Winland’s Susanna is by turns poised and elegant or quick and fiery. Her characterisation is of a confident young woman, the steelier half of the couple when opposite Mr Schwartz’s Figaro. Her voice is both nimble and expressive, perfect for the role. Her Act 4 aira “Deh vieni” was as smooth and sensual as silk.

Daniel Hällström’s voice is somewhat brighter, perhaps slightly better suited to the set pieces such as “Se voul ballare” and “Non più andrai” than Mr Schwartz’s. Opposite Sofie Asplund’s Susanna his Figaro is the leading partner in the couple. Ms Asplund gives her Susanna less poise but a more youthful and impulsive image. Vocally she is every bit as nimble in the ensembles and sensual in “Sull’aria” and “Deh vieni” as Ida Falk Winland.

Anna Grevelius made an absolutely delightful Cherubino, adopting convincingly male mannerisms (so much so that she had to be taught to walk like a woman by Susanna and the Countess, a wonderfully comic moment) and looking every inch the frustrated teenager with a rock star trying to come out from inside. Her performance of “Voi che sapete” in particular was heartfelt. Hannah Brehmer’s school-girl Barbarina was the perfect pairing, with a very light, girlish voice and delightfully cheeky acting that was an effective contrast to Ms Grevelius’ dark-toned voice. They had real chemistry together, and Ms Grevelius’ Cherubino also had an affecting relationship with Ida Falk Winland’s Susanna, who seemed to be something of an unofficial big sister to Cherubino.

Ann-Kristin Jones’s voice is brighter and full of overtones that made both of Cherubino’s arias a joy to hear. She made “Non so piu” a whirlwind of passion, but was not as convincingly male as Ms Grevelius in the same role. Anna Johansson was a good Barbarina, but her pairing with Ms Jones lacked some of the chemistry of Ms Grevelius and Ms Brehmer.

The last cast member to change on 31 October was the conductor. From 31 October Patrik Ringborg is conducting, making a welcome return to Gothenburg after his magnificent conducting in Salome in 2011. His conducting of Figaro (and his fortepiano playing in the recitatives) focussed on rhythm rather than line, which made for good comic effects in the recitatives but perhaps occasionally missed out on some of the sublime beauty of Mozart’s score. No such comment can be made about Jane Glover’s conducting. Her line is seemingly effortless, no more so than in Act 2 that was so heavenly it felt almost like one long phrase. Her fortepiano playing in the recitatives was also perfectly judged. It was a real pleasure to hear such a consummate Mozartian conductor and the audience was rightfully appreciative.

Niklas Smith

 

Additional keywords: Gothenburg Opera

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