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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze Di Figaro, Opera buffa in four acts (1786)
Susanna, maid to the Countess – Golda Schultz (soprano); Figaro, manservant to the Count - Markus Werba (bar); Count Almaviva, Carlos Álvarez (bar); Countess Almaviva, Diana Damrau (soprano); Cherubino, a young buck around the palace - Marianne Crebassa (mezzo soprano); Marcellina, a mature lady owed a debt by Figaro – Anna Maria Chiuri (mezzo soprano). Don Basilio, a music master and schemer, also Don Curzio - (Krešimir Špicer ten). Don Bartolo, Marcellina’s sometime lover and Antonio, gardener, - Andrea Concetti (bass). Barbarina, Antonio’s daughter- Teresa Tisser (sop)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Alla Scala, Milan/Franz Welser-Möst
rec. La Scala, Milan, 2016
Stage director, Frederic Wake-Walker. Set and Costume Designer, Antony McDonald
Video Director, Patrizia Carmine
Filmed in HD. Picture Format: 16:9. Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1
Subtitle Languages: Italian (Original Language), English, German, French, Spanish, Korean and Japanese
C MAJOR 743108 DVD [124 mins]

All good things come to an end. At much the same time as Covent Garden came to the conclusion that its 1964 production of La Boheme by John Copley had run its course and was in need of replacement, so too did La Scala in respect of its 1981 production of Le Nozze Di Figaro by the internationally renowned Giorgio Strehler. This had seen many revivals and been widely toured (review). As Director for the new production the theatre, of unparalleled international renown, somewhat surprisingly went for a young man, Frederic Wake-Walker. In his mid-thirties, Wake-Walker’s reputation seems to rest on a production of Mozart’s La finta giardiniera at Glyndebourne in 2014. This new Figaro production, staged for the 225th anniversary of Mozart’s death, also features Franz Welser-Möst on the rostrum, appearing for the first time in an important new production at La Scala. Among the cast is to be found the intriguing coincidence that Diana Damrau, the Countess here, sang the role of Susanna in the 2008 series of filmed performances referred to.

Like Strehler, Wake-Walker has his cast costumed in period, albeit with one or two idiosyncrasies, but there the similarity concludes. The light touch that Strehler brought to his production is significantly lacking with Wake-Walker rather too heavily underlining the humour of the comic situations and feeling it necessary to add superfluous hyper stage activity as well as darkly dressed figures who appear in or around the action from time to time; his production somehow conveys the feeling that Mozart’s plot needs illumination! Where it does need very imaginative and careful staging is in the last act garden scene where the plot and general goings on reach their various conclusions. Far too often, as here, a director and stage design team fail abysmally. Added to that failure is also the breaking of the period in terms of the stage set and costumes. It is not merely the improbability of Figaro mistaking his wife for the countess, and the reverse when one is costumed in a vivid purple colour, but it is also the overall ambience with the stage cluttered by modern chairs!

The humour of Mozart’s comedy gets little help from Franz Welser-Möst, a conductor whose Viennese credentials I have often admired. Here, tempi vary and the overall effect lacks the Mozartian vitality that is innate in the score. The solo singing is marked by the outstanding, the very good and the abysmal with renowned baritone Carlos Álvarez even forgetting his words and having to be audibly prompted! The role was double cast, Álvarez sharing it with Simon Keenlyside, a natural Mozartian well versed and experienced in the idiom, so such disaster for the filming is unacceptable. I write that as an admirer of Álvarez in Verdi and other Italian composers, but here he hardly sounds a comfortable Mozartian in his role. As the Count’s long suffering wife, we have the flip side of the casting policy. Damrau was a memorable Susanna for Strehler and is the outstanding singer in this diverse cast. Her vocal poise and characterization in both famous arias are particularly welcome. In addition she also acts superbly, never more so than in her interactions with Susanna as the pair plot to spoil Count Almaviva’s licentious plans. As Susanna, the American soprano Golda Schultz sings well and enters fully into her role even if, as yet, she is not a match for the very best international singers who have the role in their repertoire. As Cherubino, Marianne Crebassa acts the role well, but cannot disguise the obvious femininity of her features. Among all the major soloists Marcus Werba, not a singer I have heard or seen before, manages to be penny plain, even undistinguished in the eponymous role. The lesser solo roles are adequately taken with some cast doubling and involving two members from the Scala Academy making a step up.

In a recent film of this opera, made in China with native singers and released internationally (review), I made the observation that, whilst the production was idiomatic, the singers were not so in their interpretations, resulting in a lack of overall European feel. Here we have a kind of flip side of that. Singers immersed in the European tradition, but not able to escape the fussiness and triteness of the production and the extraneous stage goings on.

Robert J Farr

 

 




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