Teatro Real de Madrid 2021-22 Review: Le Nozze di Figaro
Claus Guth’s Depressive & Sinister Staging Undermines Mozart’s Work & Talented CastBy Mauricio Villa
Originally, the Teatro Real de Madrid was supposed to present a new production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” co-produced with the Festival D’Aix-en-Provence. But instead, the company presented the Claus Guth production from Salzburg.
The German stage director is no stranger to Madrid’s opera house, having helmed “Don Giovanni” last season with the company. He is famous (or infamous?) for his extreme interpretations, always trying to give a modern and deep insight of the operas. His production of “La Bohème” for Paris Opera caused a major scandal over the choice of setting – a spaceship.
A Depressive & Nonsensical Mess
Unsurprisingly, the same holds true for “Nozze.” Guth’s concept looks the other way and ignores the libretto, creating a parallel show bathed in a sinister, gray, depressive, and dramatic feel that is in stark contrast to the joyful and agile music of Mozart’s “Opera Buffa,” Da Ponte’s libretto, and even the Beaumarchais work on which this operatic masterpiece is based on. If anything, it seemed like the whole point of the production was to undercut, rather than interpret, “Nozze” at every single 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 the sets are all grey, brown, or black. There are dead crows on the stage during several scenes. Moreover, lighting is used to create big shadows, emphasizing the spooky and creepy feel of the entire enterprise. Honestly, the set would be more appropriate for something like “The Turn of the Screw” or some romantic gothic work, like “Lucia di Lammermoor;” it just didn’t feel right for an opera buffa.
To top all that, Guth overuses slow motion movements and frozen figures of the characters, subverting the propulsive spirit of the music.
And there’s the introduction of an angel character dressed in navy clothes (the same costume Cherubino is wearing) which seems to manipulate all the characters. It’s supposed to be Cupid. However, even here, Guth seemed to be going on his own tangent because instead of acting like the Greek god of love, he acted more like a lusty demon. Ultimately, none of it made any sense.
Da ponte’s libretto is already so rich – there is the fight of social classes, sexual harassment, infidelity – which should allow for ample interpretation. Guth’s concept is far removed from any of it loses connection to its original source.
Unfortunately, in this light, it is impossible to truly comment on the individual acting of singers who were all portrayed as dark and depressive in this production. The Countess, during her opening “Porgi amor,” was made to look like she was in a catatonic state and the general tone of the other characters was much the same, adding to the overall joylessness of the presentation.
Italian baritone Vito Priante, as Figaro possesses a dark powerful instrument with top ringing high Fs which were on full display during “Dindin, dindin” in the opening duet ( it is quite demanding to sing the vowel “I” in the high register); he also showed up his top notes during his aria “Se voul ballare.” His diction was immaculate and he was agile but understandable in fast recitatives. He offered a meaningful and emotional interpretation of his fourth act aria “Aprite un po’quegli occhi.”
French soprano Julie Fuchs played the opera’s main heroine Susanna. She demonstrated her solid technique and vocal control in a difficult role which demands a light juvenile voice that is consistently written in the middle register. Her timbre was round and full of harmonics, and she colored the lines with careful attention to the dynamics of the score. She sang the famed aria “Deh, vieni non tardar” exquisite legato and mezza voce.
Spanish soprano Maria Jose Moreno played the role of the countess. She had already obtained a great success last season as Donna Anna and her performance of the suffering countess reinforced her triumph at the Spanish theater. She has a dark velvet timbre with an astonishing projection which gains volume as she rises up to the higher register. Nevertheless, she emitted two soaring high C pianissimi during the Act two trio. Her fiato and breath technique was put to the test during her third act aria “Dove sono” thanks to the exaggerated slow tempi that conductor Ivor Bolton imposed. Moreno managed to sing long legato lines in one breath and even delivered the second part of the aria in a beautiful mezza voce.
Andre Schuen sang the role of the Count Almaviva. He has a powerful dark voice with a round equal timbre which navigated easily through Mozart’s lyric lines. His stamina and strength was emphasized 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 the 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 repetitions. It was just a shame that her character was not clearly drawn as she did not look like a young teenager but a woman dressed in boy’s clothes with a short-haired wig.
Monica Bacelli and Fernando Radó gave a correct, aseptic portrayal of the roles of Marcellina and Bartolo, respectively, while Christophe Montague gave a creepy personification of Don Basilio who looked like a vampire or a character from the “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 the wind and string instruments and the orchestral sound was rich and colorful. He was a little bit extreme with the slow tempi during the Countess’ arias or Susana’s ”Deh vieni, non tardar;” while these broader tempi created an emotional atmosphere, it also imposed demanding long fiato lines from the sopranos, which is hard as their voices are very exposed by the subtle orchestrations. Nonetheless, Bolton managed to infuse the performance with the joy and brightness that Mozart put on his score and which Guth decided to be ignored. 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.
Ultimately, this was a stylish and bright musical interpretation of Mozart’s opera buffa featuring a young cast of talented voices that were undermined by a depressive, dark psychoanalytical staging.