Le Nozze di Figaro – A handsome dog, and some old tricks

by Rupert Christiansen (Telegraph)

«David McVicar is a very good opera director, and his new production of Le nozze di Figaro – the Royal Opera’s first contribution to Mozart’s 250th birthday celebrations – will doubtless give audiences pleasure for years to come.

Beaumarchais’s scenario is updated half a century to the 1830s, allowing the designer, Tanya McCallin, to give Almaviva’s palace a fresh visual elegance – the walls are bare, the costuming is early Victorian. Servants scuttle around and listen at doors; nobody is ever quite alone, and private marital dramas are unwittingly played out in public.

The characters emerge warmly and sympathetically – McVicar may not be the easiest of people to work with, but he certainly knows how to get the best out of singers. The staging is smoothly managed. At times, there’s a bit too much bustle, but there are no cheap gags or interpolations unwarranted by the score or the libretto. It is all so very tasteful.

And yet, and yet, I wanted more. McVicar’s activity is non-stop – he must direct four or five productions a year – and, although I have never known him to fall below a level of competence, I sometimes feel he is resorting to a book of old tricks rather than starting from scratch: the floor-sweeping which accompanies the overture, for instance, was last seen in his Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne this summer, and the eavesdropping business was a big feature of his ENO Manon.

Here, I felt that his translation of Figaro to the 1830s was more a quick coat of decorative gloss than an exploration of motivation and implication.

In the 1780s, the droit de seigneur that the Count pretends to renounce was a seriously inflammatory issue, which would have pushed Figaro and Susanna towards republicanism and maybe Robespierre.

In McVicar’s version, the Count’s household seems to run without discipline or deference, and the Count seems nothing more than a dandy-turned-rake, like Sir Mulberry Hawk in Nicholas Nickleby. Good theatre, perhaps, but not truly illuminating interpretation.

Still, it’s a lovely performance all the same. Antonio Pappano conducts (and accompanies the recitatives) with brisk vivacity and clarity, if not much imagination. The cast is strong: Erwin Schrott is a handsome dog of a Figaro, less of an oaf than usual and firmly sung. His Susanna is the pitch-perfect Miah Persson, radiating determination and competence until a dreamily beautiful “Deh vieni non tardar” shows another side of her personality.

As the Countess, that fine musician Dorothea Röschmann starts awkwardly with a nervous “Porgi amor”, but hits vocal form in the evening’s second half with a richly eloquent “Dove sono”. Rinat Shaham is an ebullient Cherubino, and Jonathan Veira (Bartolo), Graciela Araya (Marcellina) and Philip Langridge (Basilio) make a splendidly Dickensian trio of conspirators.

The finest element of the evening, however, is Gerald Finley’s dashingly self-absorbed Count, sung with a technical focus, sensitive musicality and crisp enunciation that disarms criticism. What a great operatic artist he has become.»


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