Le Nozze di Figaro
by Tim Ashley (The Guardian)
«David McVicar’s new production transposes Mozart’s comedy from its usual 18th century setting to a French chateau on the eve of the July 1830 revolution that saw the restored Bourbon monarchy replaced by the liberal bourgeois era of Louis Philippe. The events of that summer were famously commemorated by Delacroix in Liberty Leading the People. The production charts the transformation of Figaro, gloriously incarnated by Erwin Schrott, from naive, liveried flunky to a politically engaged figure who belongs on Delacroix’s barricades.
Yet the reasons for the transposition tend to the obscure and its efficacy is at times questionable. In a programme note, McVicar argues that the opera has less to do with the 1789 revolution than we assume and that its values are those of the “emerging bourgeois class” to which Mozart belonged. Accordingly much is made of the contrast between bourgeois marriage, grounded in the free assent of both parties, and the emotional catastrophes attendant on aristocratic codes of sexual behaviour, with their emphasis on proprietorial masculinity and female submission. Dorothea Röschmann’s Countess, in anguishing over her husband’s infidelity, is also rebelling against such values, and at the end sweeps, like a grand society hostess, into the debris-strewn garden to initiate a new order by confronting and forgiving Gerald Finley’s aggressive, insidiously attractive Count.
While the political dynamics aren’t always clear, the emotional and sexual issues are more cogently explored. Bartolo (Jonathan Veira) and Marcellina (Graciela Araya) are Sadean monsters getting off on the idea of destroying Figaro. Röschmann is by turns bewildered and delighted when she realises she has the hots for Rinat Shaham’s Cherubino. The relationship between Schrott and Miah Persson’s Susanna is rooted in deep sexual contentment, which makes their brief suspicions of each other all the more painful.
Musically the evening is remarkable. Röschmann is exceptional in giving voice to the Countess’s despair. Finley is the most dangerous of Counts, Persson a sensual, feisty Susanna. Schrott, meanwhile, handsome of presence and gorgeous of tone, is a star in the making. Antonio Pappano’s conducting is full of wit and emotional depth. A flawed but compelling evening.»