Le nozze di Figaro - Haus Für Mozart, Salzburg, 30 July 2011
Claus Guth's cinematically-inspired 2006 production sets Figaro in funereal Bergmanesque monochrome. Hitchcock's The Birds is referenced in the dead crows and autumnal leaves littering the bare rooms. It looks more like a particularly scary The Turn of the Screw than a Mozart comedy.
The humour emerges slowly as realistic action alternates with the surreal appearances of the silent sailor-suited double of Cherubino, Guth's externalisation of the opera's governing principle of eros. When there's narrative there's realism, but each time the action pauses for an aria or ensemble, there he is, sending the cast into strange contortions and odd little dances.
It is the relationships between men and women that interest Guth. The broader political aspects of the work don't get a look-in. The humour's farcical aspect is downplayed too, in favour of a more dangerous kind of comedy. Susanna and the Countess play erotic games with Cherubino - Figaro and the Count really do have something to worry about. Figaro himself is a simple-minded soul. The more devious plotting seems to emerge from the women's imaginations, and the Count is their victim. The battle is between male and female, not master and servants. In this way the work emerges as both counterpoint and complement to Così fan tutte, also revived at this year's Festival, again in a Guth production. In the programme, Guth expresses the wish that people take in all three of his Mozart-Da Ponte productions this year in order to fully digest how they relate to one another. If only.
Performances were at an exceptionally high level, with Genia Kühmeier's extraordinarily touching Countess the crowning achievement of the evening. It was just a shame her basic vocal timbre contrasted so little with the excellent Susanna of Marlis Petersen. Simon Keenlyside's Count showed a wary respect for both.
Ever the adaptable actor, Erwin Schrott created a sweet and nerdy Figaro - anyone who's seen his sly Covent Garden portrayal wouldn't recognise him here. The unusually dark-voiced Barbarina was Malin Christensson - paradoxically got-up as a schoolgirl. Marie McLaughlin's Marcellina and Franz-Josef Selig's Bartolo were nicely free of caricature. Only Katija Dragojevic's beautifully-toned but monochromatic Cherubino was a bit of a disappointment.
On this production's last outing, that supreme Mozart orchestra the Vienna Philharmonic were in the pit. This time round it was the turn of Robin Ticciati and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. There were some wonderful moments, notably the finely-poised drama of the final act, but much in between was routine if not borderline rough. And the harpsichord continuo, while nicely done, was just not loud enough. Mozart is simple, but rarely easy.
Incidentally, I had a 15 euro standing place at the very rear of the house. Both sound and view were excellent - you don't have to pay a fortune to enjoy the Salzburg Festival.