Le Nozze di Figaro
The Glyndebourne Festival
Modernizing approach: Grandage’s Nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne
© Alastair Muir 2012
Though audiences in Vienna or Salzburg might beg to differ, Glyndebourne-goers are secure in the knowledge that Le Nozze di Figaro is theirs, as of right. On May 28, 1934, the first festival opened with the opera, conducted by Fritz Busch and staged by Carl Ebert. Sixty years later to the day, the rebuilt opera house was inaugurated with Mozart’s opera, with Bernard Haitink in the pit and Stephen Medcalf restaging Peter Hall’s production. On June 27 of this year, Michael Grandage presented his new version, with music-director elect Robin Ticciati in charge of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. During the course of the run, Figaro reached its 500th company performance, more than any other work in a repertory still founded on mainstream Mozart.
Grandage and his designer Christopher Oram took a modernizing approach to the opera. The period was the 1960s, initially marked by the smart sportscar Count Almaviva drove up to the entrance of his Spanish mansion during the overture, there to be greeted by his staff, and thereafter further indicated by the costumes and the dancing (the twist being the order of the day). In other respects, there was no challenge to the ethos of traditional productions, except that Grandage’s direction was unusually specific to the characters and finely matched both to the moment and to the music. Oram’s sets, meanwhile, created a remarkably handsome sequence of ambiences to play in, the local Moorish architecture dominating the Countess’s bedroom and the Act IV garden scene to particularly elegant effect. The result was a genial, quick-witted show that missed no tricks and conveyed its narrative with consistent immediacy.
In the principal roles, the cast was young and lively. The menfolk were unusually complex. Italian bass Vito Priante’s Figaro was nervous and insecure dramatically, bright-toned and edgy vocally. Norwegian Audun Iversen’s Count blustered around bad-temperedly, his sexual frustration underlined in the vehemence and tension of his sizable bass-baritone. Sally Matthews fielded a cleanly lyrical Countess, confident throughout the range, though weak on diction. German soprano Lydia Teuscher’s Susanna scored more highly in that respect, her textual attack as firm as her characterization was focused and determined. Strikingly individual in the warmth of her mellow timbre, American mezzo Isabel Leonard delivered an effortlessly appealing and convincingly teenage- boyish Cherubino for her company debut; she surely has star potential.
The older generation was well represented by Ann Murray’s unusually warm and human Marcellina, a fully developed portrayal delivered without a hint of caricature. In an intelligent buffo performance, Andrew Shore bustled around self-importantly as Bartolo, sure of himself until incontrovertibly wrong-footed. Alan Oke made a meal out of his lounge-lizard of a Basilio, though he (like Murray’s Marcellina) lost his last-act aria.
Not yet thirty, Robin Ticciati also presented a youthful image as conductor. His music-making was invariably efficient and purposeful, if a little lacking in individuality or strong emphasis. Surprisingly, given the fact that Glyndebourne’s resident period-instrument band was playing for this production, there was no attempt to introduce decorations into the vocal lines, which Mozart’s audience would surely have expected, and which he and his singers would certainly have provided.
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