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Le Nozze di Figaro
NEW YORK CITY
Mostly Mozart Festival
Figaro at Mostly Mozart, with Shore, Tatulescu, Trekel, Persson, Murray, Müller-Brachmann and Fischer
© Richard Termine 2013
After a much-lauded Don Giovanni in 2011, conductor and stage director Iván Fischer returned to the Mostly Mozart Festival on August 11 with an idiosyncratic and not totally successful Nozze di Figaro in the Rose Theater.
Fischer aims to implement a unified musical-dramatic vision in staged concerts that use costumes and lighting, while placing the singers among the orchestra in imaginative and challenging spaces. For Figaro, the onstage orchestra is split in two by a raised platform flanked by racks of eighteenth-century clothing, while other costumes float above the stage on wires. Two smaller side platforms and two free-standing doors offer additional playing areas, and cast, chorus, dancers, extras and conductor move around freely. Some of the violins even stand up for splashy finales.
Fischer's conception of Figaro hangs on identity, concealment and disguise, exemplified by clothing. There's the fun and bustle of flying caps and costumes and padded bras as chorus and extras dress during the overture. Over contemporary black-and-white cocktail garb (by Györgi Szakács), the cast gradually dons bits of period pieces. Figaro outfits Cherubino in a military uniform lowered from the ceiling, and Susanna and the Countess exchange disguises by standing behind each other's free-standing hoop dresses. Now and then, an extra plops powdered wigs on some of the instrumentalists
In spite of clever use of the playing spaces and the overhead dummies, the staging is standard-issue opera workshop. Sometimes the simplicity works and sometimes not. Susanna's attempt to make sense of Figaro's parentage ("Tua madre? Tua padre?" in the delicious Act III sextet) is simple and affecting here, but instead of measuring the room during the opening duet, Figaro stares at the space between his hands as if deciding on the length of a hero sandwich for a frat party. Nothing was as striking or evocative as the one production shot I saw of Fischer's Don Giovanni. Perhaps comedy is not his forte.
There's no denying Fischer's extraordinary musicianship, however, and his leadership of the excellent Budapest Festival Orchestra revealed a symphonic conception of the work. Individual players are clearly invested in their music-making, and Fischer was not the only one who seemed to be working from memory. Tempos were unnervingly slow, yet they afforded time to savor contrapuntal textures or wondrous modulations, which were beautifully detailed and played with obvious affection. But Le Nozze di Figaro is not a symphony; these orchestral indulgences sometimes left the singers struggling to keep momentum. And somehow they delivered fine recitatives in spite of appalling continuo playing.
The performance was not about the singing anyway. Hanno Müller-Brachmann played Figaro as an ordinary guy and sang that way too. Laura Tatulescu's small voice grew in interest and individuality throughout the show, and "Deh vieni, non tardar" was shaped with spontaneity. Roman Trekel's Count looked imposing but lacked low notes, while Miah Persson's lovely singing as the Countess was marred by long stretches under the pitch.
Ann Murray's alert, witty Marcellina was a particular delight, and Andrew Shore's Bartolo matched her in stage presence, if not in vocal profile. As Cherubino, Rachel Frenkel looked and sounded fresh and pert, while Norma Nahoun revealed the most fascinating voice of all, puzzlingly cast in the miniscule role of Barbarina. Tenor Rodolphe Briand had some fine musical and theatrical moments as Don Basilio and Don Curzio, but Matteo Peirone was a blustery Antonio.
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