United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2015 (10) – Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro: Soloists, Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer (conductor & director), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 16.8.2015 (SRT)
Figaro – Hanno Müller-Brachmann
Susanna – Sylvia Schwartz
Count – Markus Werba
Countess – Miah Persson
Cherubino – Rachel Frenkel
Marcellina – Marie McLaughlin
Bartolo – Andrew Shore
Don Basilio / Don Curzio – Rodolphe Briand
Barbarina – Norma Nahoun
Antonio – Filippo Fontana
On paper, Iván Fischer’s Marriage of Figaro really shouldn’t be anything very special. After all, it’s effectively a glorified concert performance, with minimal sets and costumes, and the orchestra and singers sharing the stage, alongside the conductor who beats time visibly throughout. By undermining conventional theatricality, this ought to be a fairly standard musical experience.
And yet it worked on me so incredibly powerfully! By pouring the focus into the musical end of things, Fischer’s “staged concert” (his words) gave the audience’s imaginations the space to do the creating that many directors are all too keen to do for you. The focus instead was entirely on the characters and their emotional journeys. Beyond a miniature stage in the middle of the orchestra, most of the singing and acting was focused out directly into the audience, and the gains in clarity were immense. The one constant theme was appearance, and costumes would glide quietly in and out to suggest disguise or revelation. Mostly, however, the singers’ communication with the audience was unmediated and totally raw, increasing the emotional power of the experience to a degree that really surprised me, and I found myself so engaged that, by the great reconciliation scene at the end, I was fighting back the tears.
It helped that, for the first time in years, the Edinburgh International Festival had assembled a properly top-rank opera cast who were among the world’s leaders in what they do. I’ve often had difficulty with the gravel in Hanno Müller-Brachmann’s voice, but tonight I found it adding to the touch of Everyman about his Figaro, and it made him even more bluff and sympathetic, to my ears. The heavily pregnant Sylvia Schwartz stood in gamely as Susanna and sounded great, especially in the beautiful climax of Deh, vieni, non tardar. Even finer, however, were the Almavivas. Miah Persson has now graduated into the role of the Countess, and she sings it gloriously, creamy and rich on the top, and turning Dove sono into a real epiphany. Markus Werba is just about ideal as the Count, young and virile, bringing a real touch of magic to the music and to his stage charisma. This star is already on the fringes of the big time, and he deserves to go all the way. Rachel Frenkel captured the ardour of the impetuous Cherubino, and it was great to see Marie McLaughlin and Andrew Shore hamming it up brilliantly as Marcellina and Bartolo.
The playing of the Budapest Festival Orchestra was relaxed, spry and all of a piece, while Fischer himself, not a man renowned for his easy-going nature, seemed totally relaxed on stage, conducting the whole score from memory, mostly sitting down, often even cross-legged, submitting to various jokes like donning a wig or painting a picture.
In short, I found this a triumph, full of heart and bursting with life. Is this the night that opera came back to the Edinburgh Festival?
The 2015 Edinburgh International Festival runs until Monday 31st August at venues across the city. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk .