Passion Runs High in Wiener Staatsoper’s Le nozze di Figaro

AustriaAustria Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro: Soloists, Wiener Staatsoper Chorus and Orchestra/Adam Fischer (conductor), Staatsoper, Vienna, 9.9.2017. (RP)
Andrea Carroll as Susanna, Adam Plachetka as Figaro © Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Michael Pöhn
Andrea Carroll (Susanna) & Adam Plachetka (Figaro)
© Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Pöhn

Count Almaviva – Carlos Álvarez
Countess Almaviva – Dorothea Röschmann
Susanna – Andrea Carroll
Figaro – Adam Plachetka
Cherubino – Margarita Gritskova
Marcellina – Ulrike Heizel
Don Basilio – Pavel Kolgatin
Don Curzio – Peter Jelosits
Don Bartolo – Ryan Speedo Green
Antonio – Igor Onishchenko
Barbarina – Maria Nazarova

Director – Jean-Louis Martinoty
Set Design – Hans Schavernoch
Costumes – Sylvie de Segonzac
Lighting – Fabrice Kebour
Chorus master – Martin Schebesta

Louis XVI said of Beaumarchais’s Le mariage de Figaro that ‘for this play not to be a danger, the Bastille would have to be torn down first’. The prison, a reviled symbol of the Ancien Régime, was stormed in 1789 and sparked the French revolution. Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto omits the most overt political references of the play and sets the action in Seville. Debuting just three years earlier, it too takes direct aim at a society where the established order is under siege.

Jean-Louis Martinoty’s production, first seen in Vienna in 2011, focuses on the tremors along these societal fault lines. Ochre is the predominant hue, with a palette that ranges from dusky yellows to muted reds. Hans Schavernoch’s set is a series of oversized fragments of portraits, still lifes and flowers suspended inside a baroque gold frame. The floor is a reflection of a ceiling with a field of azure blue in the center. It is refined and elegant, but slightly jarring and disorienting. There is wit, charm and laughter, but it is nonetheless a brutal atmosphere. Tellingly, amongst the few props are a saber and a pistol, brandished by the vainglorious Count, whose propensity towards violence is as threatening as predatory nature.

Carlos Álvarez commanded the stage with his solid, erect bearing. His resonant voice captured effortlessly both the Count’s mercurial temper and the more subtle, passionate wooing of the local maidens. If his high notes did not ring free and clear at the climax of ‘Hai già vinta la causa! … Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro’, it was if a momentary sense of bewilderment over the turn of events prevented him from fully venting his rage. Thwarted this once, he nonetheless stood alone, proud and defiant as the curtain fell.

Dorothea Röschmann’s Countess displayed more muted passions. Still very much in love with her husband, she nonetheless shivered with sensual delight as the final notes of Cherubino’s aria ‘Voi che sapete’ sounded. Röschmann’s creamy, lush soprano is in pristine state, although she pushed her voice to its limits in the final cadence of ‘Dove sono i bei momenti’, so caught up in the moment that she was unable to even approximate a trill. One half expected her to smash the hourglass that she was holding on the floor as her rage built. Passions ran high in Martinoty’s Seville.

If stature and voice were the denominators of authority, Adam Plachetka’s Figaro would have reigned supreme, but wits were more vital, and there he was bested by his Susanna, Andrea Carroll. Plachetka has a superb voice, rich and virile, perhaps the finest Figaro I have ever heard. Carroll was a pert Susanna, quick on her feet with a lovely, clear soprano. If only her ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ was afforded the calm and space that it deserved; Martinoty’s sole directorial misstep was having the Countess, disguised as Susanna, wantonly sprawled in a wheel barrow with her legs akimbo during the aria. The scene has little to do with the Countess, and even less to do with carnal lust.

Margarita Gritskova’s voice sparkled in ‘Non so più cosa son’, brilliantly capturing Cherubino’s intoxication with the female sex. Her plummy tones in ‘Voi che sapete che cosa è amor’ were at odds however with an otherwise delightful, energetic portrayal of the hormone-driven teenage page. In a dress of bold red and white stripes, Ulrike Helzel’s Marcellina was scheming and alluring, neither hag nor harridan. Sexual self-awareness came early in the Almaviva castle, as even Maria Nazarova’s Barbarina was well versed with the power that youth and beauty afforded her; the richness of her voice and knowing smile belied any notion that she was a naive young maiden.

Ryan Speedo Green was an affable Don Bartolo, who would have cut a more serious figure without the silly wig perched awkwardly on his head. However, he gave full voice to Don Bartolo’s rage in ‘La vendetta’ with his resplendent bass baritone. Peter Jelosits’ droll, stuttering Don Curzio, the obsequious Don Basilio of Pavel Kolgatin and Igor Onishchenko’s wild-eyed, disheveled Antonio rounded out the cast.

Conducting from memory, Adam Fischer silently voiced each word of Da Ponte’s libretto, coaxing a nuanced, high-spirited performance from singers and players alike. Mozart’s sublime score unfolded seamlessly under his benevolent and affectionate gaze. The orchestra radiated contentment and pleasure, perhaps the best measure of this fine performance.

Rick Perdian

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