Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro (Munich, 2017)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro

Bayerische Staatsoper, 2017

Constantinos Carydis, Christof Loy, Christian Gerhaher, Federica Lombardi, Solenn' Lavanant-Linke, Alex Esposito, Olga Kulchynska, Paolo Bordogna, Anne Sofie von Otter, Manuel Günther, Dean Power, Milan Siljanov, Anna El-Khashem, Paula Iancic, Niamh O’Sullivan

Staatsoper Live - 28th October 2017

Christof Loy really does have opera directing down to a fine art. Not everything he does is perfect, and there have been some rather abstract and minimalist productions where the set has been reduced down to nothing but a few chairs, but I've always found his approach to thought-provoking and fully engaged with the work in question, responsive to its themes and moods. Le Nozze di Figaro is a work of such perfection that it doesn't need a great deal of elaboration, and Loy manages to strike a good balance between hands-off in relation to the concept and hands-on with the characterisation in this new Bavarian State Opera production.

From the opening of the first act and most of the way through it, it certainly looks like Loy is rather short on ideas and reluctant to impose any radical intervention on the work. The chair is already in place with a drape over it for Cherubino to hide under, the doors are well placed for all the entrances and exits. You can pretty much see how the whole of the first half of the work is blocked out on the stage right from the opening of the curtains. Except it's not quite that simple, because the curtain-up is prefaced with a little puppet show on a miniature of the stage of the Munich opera house at Max-Joseph-Platz.

It's more than just suggesting that Figaro and Susanna are just puppets of Count Almaviva. The real Figaro emerges and starts measuring up the new room that he will soon share with his bride-to-be. The world that the servants occupy in this world is about to get a little bit bigger by the time we get to the conclusion of Mozart's opera and the influence and importance of the nobility will not go unchallenged. Beaumarchais's revolutionary play might have played its own small part in changing social attitudes of course, as events in France would subsequently show, but as you can imagine, Christof Loy is more interested in what Le Nozze di Figaro says now than what part it might or might not have played in its foreshadowing of the French revolution.

So while the first half of Munich's Figaro plays out very much along conventional lines, it's with a few more modern touches, or at least within a non-time specific context. The room with its stage/window backdrop is a view on the world where social attitudes are changing. The barriers go beyond class, although the aristocracy (Count and Countess Almaviva), the middle-classes (Bartolo and Marcellina), and the working classes (Figaro and Susanna) are all represented; there's also a greater emphasis on the freedom of expression of women, of the individual, and perhaps even in the freedom to choose one's sexual identity in Cherubino.

Loy in an interview states that he has other ideas for Cherubino, seeing him as representing something from a more innocent age. And it's true that Cherubino is the only figure who wears a period costume from Mozart's era. The spirit of Cherubino can be an essential element in Le Nozze di Figaro, a spirit that is part of the whole rich fabric of life and society as Mozart and Da Ponte saw it. Loy is certainly right to give Cherubino a meaningful role in this respect, and he is wonderfully played as such by Solenn' Lavanant-Linke, who also sings the role well and with some character.

Loy's interventions then are therefore subtle and minimal, finding a way to bring out the humanist sentiments of the work without disrupting the humour, character and essential fabric of the original too much. It doesn't always hit the mark - the familiar comic set-pieces occasionally feel a little laboured, with pauses losing the momentum that is very much a part of the magic of the composition - but Loy demonstrates a great awareness of the construction of the work as a whole, how its humour and social commentary play off one another, how it grips an audience and engages them in the important message it has to share about individual freedoms.

A considerable part of the genius of that construction is of course within Mozart's incredible music itself, and in the wonderful singing roles that he gifts each of the singers with as an expression of personality. Constantinos Carydis surprises by the fast tempo that he adopts for the work at the start, and much of the work fairly sprints along, buoyed by both harpsichord and forte-piano accompaniment that provide some beautiful textures to the music. It is however varied according to mood even if, it has to be said, it feels a bit inconsistent and drags in other places. The Countess's 'Porgi Amor' feels overly drawn-out, but it does seem to be very much an attempt to better relate to how the work itself is constructed, having fun exposing hypocrisy in the first half, but with a more serious reflection on events in the second half of the work. Has there ever been a more generous opera?

It's certainly generous for its melodies and arias, and they are all given due attention in the production, which has a very capable cast of singers. When I say due attention, it's consideration of the importance of the arias within the whole dramatic flow and fabric of the work and not as standalone pieces to show off the abilities of the singers, as some people like to view opera. Alex Esposito has been specialising in Mozart and Rossini baritone roles, but does have a tendency to over-play. Not so much here. His Figaro is lively, engaging and well-sung, if not quite fully rounded. Rising star Olga Kulchynska makes for a fine Susanna with a quality performance.

The other roles are all similarly well sung with a degree of character, although there's no real stand-out performances here. In the egalitarian context of The Marriage of Figaro, I think that's an advantage and, as such, Christian Gerhaher is an ideal Count Almaviva. All too often Almaviva can be a caricature, a comedy villain or a bit of an oaf, when there really needs to be a more sensitive side displayed as well. We get that here with Gerhaher, and consequently it interacts well with the other singing performances; with Federica Lombardi's capable Countess and with Solenn' Lavanant-Linke's Cherubino. It's perhaps not the most memorable, insightful or humorous Le Nozze di Figaro then, but Christof Loy's Munich production is balanced, coherent and entertaining, and Mozart's score is treated well by Constantinos Carydis.

The next streamed production from the Bayerische Staastoper will be Puccini's Il Trittico on the 23 December 2017; Conductor: Kirill Petrenko , Production: Lotte de Beer. With Wolfgang Koch, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Yonghoon Lee, Pavol Breslik, Ermonela Jaho, Michaela Schuster, Ambrogio Maestri, Rosa Feola.

Links: Bayerische Staatsoper, Staatsoper.TV