Originally, the Teatro Real in Madrid was to present a new production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, co-produced with the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. But instead, the company presented the production of Claus Guth from Salzburg.
The German director is no stranger to opera in Madrid, having directed ‘Don Giovanni’ last season with the company. He is famous (or infamous?) for his extreme interpretations, always trying to give a modern and deep vision of operas. His production of “La Bohème” for the Paris Opera caused a major scandal over the choice of set – a spaceship.
A depressive and absurd mess
Unsurprisingly, the same goes for “Nozze.” Guth’s concept looks the other way and ignores the libretto, creating a side-show bathed in an eerie, gray, depressed and dramatic feel that contrasts sharply with the cheerful, agile music of Mozart’s ‘Opera Buffa’. the libretto by Da Ponte and even the work by Beaumarchais on which this lyrical masterpiece is based. If anything, it seemed like the whole point of the production was to undermine, rather than perform, “Nozze” at every turn.
The opera is staged in the main hall of a mansion with a huge staircase. We see several doors and a window on the right side. The costumes and sets are all grey, brown or black. There are dead crows on stage during several scenes. Additionally, lighting is used to create large shadows, accentuating the spooky and spooky feel of the entire company. Honestly, the set would be more appropriate for something like “The Turn of the Screw” or a romantic gothic work, like “Lucia di Lammermoor”; it didn’t seem fair to me for an opera buffa.
To top it all off, Guth abuses the characters’ slow motion and frozen figures, subverting the propulsive spirit of the music.
And there’s the introduction of an angel character dressed in navy blue clothes (the same costume Cherubino wears) who seems to manipulate all of the characters. It’s supposed to be Cupid. However, even here, Guth seemed to be going on his own tangent as instead of acting like the Greek god of love, he acted more like a lusty demon. In the end, none of it made sense.
Da Ponte’s libretto is already so rich – there is class struggle, sexual harassment, infidelity – that it should allow for wide interpretation. Guth’s concept is far removed from everything, it loses the link with its original source.
Unfortunately, in this light, it is impossible to really comment on the individual acting of the singers who were all portrayed as dark and depressive in this production. The Countess, during her opening “Porgi amor”, gave the impression that she was in a catatonic state and the general tone of the other characters was much the same, adding to the overall sadness of the presentation.
Italian baritone Vito Priante, as Figaro, has a dark, powerful instrument with high-sounding high F’s that were on full display during “Dindin, dindin” in the opening duet (it’s quite demanding to sing the vowel ” I” in the high register); he also showed his top notes during his aria “Se voul ballare”. His diction was impeccable and he was nimble but understandable in fast recitatives. He offered a meaningful and moving rendition of his fourth act aria “Aprite un po’quegli occhi”.
French soprano Julie Fuchs played the main heroine of the opera Susanna. She demonstrated her solid technique and vocal control in a challenging role that demands a light, youthful voice that is consistently written in the midrange. Her timbre was round and full of harmonics, and she colored the lines with particular attention to the dynamics of the score. She sang the famous aria “Deh, vieni non tardar” exquisite legato and mezza voce.
Spanish soprano Maria Jose Moreno played the role of the Countess. She had already achieved great success last season when Donna Anna and her interpretation of the ailing countess reinforced her triumph in the Spanish theater. It has a dark velvet timbre with stunning projection that gains volume as it rises towards the upper register. Nevertheless, she sounded two pianissimi in high C during the trio in act two. His technique of fiato and breath was put to the test in his third act aria “Dove sono” thanks to the exaggerated slow tempi imposed by conductor Ivor Bolton. Moreno managed to sing long legato lines in one breath and even delivered the second part of the tune in a beautiful mezza voce.
André Schuen performed the role of Count Almaviva. He has a powerful dark voice with a round, even timbre that navigates easily through Mozart’s lyrical lines. His stamina and strength were underlined as he had to sing the coloratura and high F sharp of his aria “Vedro mentre io sospiro” while carrying the dancer who played the angel on his back. He sang “Contessa, perdono” with extreme sadness and beauty, punctuating a wonderful night for himself.
Rachael Wilson sang the role of teenager Cherubino. She was bright and playful in her two arias, “Non so più cosa son” and “Voi che sapete” which she sang with style and subtle variations on the rehearsals. It was just a shame her character wasn’t drawn clearly because she didn’t look like a young teenage girl but a woman dressed as a boy with a wig with short hair.
Monica Bacelli and Fernando Radó gave a correct and aseptic portrayal of the roles of Marcellina and Bartolo, respectively, while Christophe Montague gave a chilling impersonation of Don Basilio who looked like a vampire or a character from “The Rocky Horror Show”.
Ivor Bolton, the musical director of Teatro Real, is a Mozart expert and it showed in the way the melodies flowed. There was a clear balance between wind and string instruments and the orchestral sound was rich and colorful. He was a bit extreme with the slow tempi during the airs of the countess or Susana’s “Deh vieni, non tardar”; while these wider tempi created an emotional atmosphere, it also imposed long, demanding fiato lines on the sopranos, which is hard because their voices are very exposed by the subtle orchestrations. Nonetheless, Bolton managed to infuse the performance with the joy and brilliance that Mozart put on his score and that Guth chose to ignore. The contrast was so great that it got to a point where it was better to close your eyes and enjoy the voices and the music.
In the end, it was an elegant and luminous musical interpretation of Mozart’s opera buffa featuring a young cast of talented voices that were undermined by a dark and depressive psychoanalytical staging.