Le Nozze di Figaro

by Richard Morrison (TimesOnline)

«Few of the trillion Mozart celebrations this year will match David McVicar’s new Royal Opera staging of Figaro for insight or passion. It isn’t a perfect show. Act IV sags, and seems untidily staged in comparison with the meticulously observed domestic warfare that has gone before. Dorothea Röschmann sings the Countess’s despairing arias with touching intensity, but also intermittent waywardness.

And the Figaro — the young, brazen and boundlessly self-confident Uruguayan Erwin Schrott — is allowed some shameless mugging. The ego has definitely landed when he’s on stage. But McVicar and his cast latch on to something so profound and truthful about human nature that these faults seem inconsequential.

The action is updated to the 1830s. That is vital: the servants can be far less deferential. And in Tanya McCallin’s vast chateau set, servants are everywhere: spying, overhearing, conspiring — in fact, more or less running this enclosed world from the overture’s first bars. It’s Gosford Park — the Musical.

Faced with this lot, Gerald Finley’s terrific Count is like a cornered dinosaur who senses the impending Ice Age but can do nothing except seethe impotently. Yet how magnificently he does seethe! I have rarely seen a Count who radiates so much pent-up anger, frustration and, at one truly shocking moment, physical brutality.

By their reactions to this raging aristocratic bull the other characters are defined. Figaro’s defiance seems all the more insouciant. There’s a spine-chilling moment when the two seem about to head-butt each other, like street thugs. Röschmann’s Countess, on the other hand, appears (and sounds) permanently on the verge of a nervous breakdown — a woman wrecked by humiliation, clutching at straws. Which makes her reconciliation with the Count even more fragile. Only the transcendental tenderness of Mozart’s music gives us hope that such a rapprochement is sustainable.

The other outstanding performance is from the young Swede Miah Persson, who looks gorgeous as Susanna (no wonder that neither Count nor Figaro can keep their paws off her) and sings with impeccable grace. In Deh, vieni 2,000 people scarcely dared breathe.

Rinat Shaham catches Cherubino’s adolescent gawkiness well, though her future probably doesn’t lie in impersonating boys. And Philip Langridge is superb playing Don Basilio as an uptight old queen. It is as if his Death in Venice Aschenbach has wandered into the wrong opera.

In the pit, Antonio Pappano keeps the orchestral sound spruce and springy. It’s almost too self-effacing in places: slight ensemble lapses suggest that singers can’t always hear instruments. Pappano should trust his instincts, and give his music more Romantic weight and colour. That would better complement this fascinatingly nuanced production.»

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