Austrian Elegance

Superior music and opera stagings at the Salzburg Festival

Though one of the celebrated Da Ponte collaborations, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro always carries the danger of being crushed under the wearying weight of constant subterfuge - people hiding in closets, in cabinets, behind doors, behind drapes and
in plain sight, to say nothing of forged letters, boys played by girls disguised as boys, and wives disguised as other women to fool their husbands: Things can swiftly descend into bad Moliere. But in Claus Guth’s monochromatic - though extremely colorful - production (from 2006), appropriately performed at Salzburg’s Haus fur Mozart, the director has introduced the externalization of the opera’s governing principle of love in the form of the tow-headed character of Cherubim (a double for Cherubino), so that love might literally walk into the room (and, on one occasion, arrive on unicycle). Cherubim’s antics infect arias and duets but never sabotage them, and the comedy in this Figaro is by turns broad, subtle and dark. The lithe Cherubim (the non-singing role embraced by Uli Kirsch) guides and manipulates Mozart’s scheming lovers until the protagonists at last reject and discard him in the final scene, walking boldly into their futures. Complementing Cherubim’s dexterity, the limber Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was nimbly conducted by Robin Ticciati. Genia Kuhmeier deserves special praise for the tenderness she brought to the role of the Countess.

Ultimately, opera doesn’t have to be staged to convince, as was aptly demonstrated in the double-bill performance of Tchaikovsky’s last opera, Iolanta, and Stravinsky’s first, Le rossignol. Here, impassioned singing, from soprano Anna Netrebko and baritone Alexei Markov (in Iolanta) and soprano Julia Lezhneva (as the cook in Le rossignol), was all that was needed.

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