OPERA NEWS - Le Nozze di Figaro
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In Review > International

Le Nozze di Figaro

Teatro alla Scala

In Review La Scala Nozze hdl 217
Crebassa and Damrau, Cherubino and Countess Almaviva at La Scala
© Brescia/Amisano Teatro alla Scala

THERE WAS NO LACK  of ideas in the new production of Le Nozze di Figaro at La Scala, directed by Frederic Wake-Walker and designed by Antony McDonald: a number of them alluded to Giorgio Strehler and Ezio Frigerio’s celebrated staging of Mozart’s opera, presented here in Milan in nine seasons between 1981 and 2012. The armchair that played a crucial role in Act I of the Strehler staging was identical to the one used here—a more-or-less eighteenth-century setting was maintained—but the action that revolves around it was brought much closer to the spectators, who were made vividly aware of the artificiality of theatrical machinery that constantly threatens to undermine the verisimilitude of the events onstage. The sheer madness that breaks out in the Act II finale (reminding us of Beaumarchais’s folle journée) severed any remaining link with psychological realism

Wake-Walker’s production proved a congenial vehicle for baritone Markus Werba, who presented Figaro as a savvy stage manager, seeking right from the overture a strong rapport with the audience, which nonetheless responded rather reluctantly on November 10. Physically, Werba appears totally at ease in the part—and he is sexier than most Figaros. His baritone, though stronger in the upper register than the lower, is well oiled and handsome, his diction appropriately insinuating. The rest of the cast was somewhat penalized by Wake-Walker’s shaky grasp of the opera’s overall architecture and his limited understanding of Mozart’s characters. Even as expert a Mozart interpreter as Simon Keenlyside, who first played Count Almaviva in 1988 and appeared at La Scala in Strehler’s production in 1997, had difficulty in making sense of a nobleman whose social status was consistently undermined, and who was turned much too quickly into a figure of fun—although Keenlyside’s voice responded as suavely as ever to the score’s challenges. (The first Almaviva in this staging, which opened on October 26, was Carlos Álvarez; Keenlyside took over, as scheduled, on November 8.)

The Countess was Diana Damrau, who had appeared here as Susanna in 2006 and was making her role debut in this production. Like Keenlyside, Damrau entered generously into the spirit of the show but never really brought the character into focus, and her lightweight voice sometimes turned guttural when she sought a weightiness of expression she could not easily command. The two arias were elegantly phrased, in appropriate settings, but she failed to bring the words to life within the legato line. As Susanna, Golda Schultz—herself an occasional Countess—brought no extra richness of tone to her Act IV solo and generally seemed just to go through the motions without engaging fully with the part. The lanky French mezzo Marianne Crebassa, who has made something of a speciality of trouser roles, brought an individual vocal coloration to Cherubino, as well as an instinct for comedy, but all the scenes in which the pageboy is hidden from the Count’s view were fussed over so much that they fell flat. 

The rest of the cast was disappointing by Scala standards, although Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer did lend individual flavoring to Don Basilio (whose aria was included in Act IV). The orchestral playing lacked the sensitivity to verbal nuance that Riccardo Muti brought to the score in performances here between 1981 and 2002. Franz Welser-Möst’s leadership was no less secure than his predecessor’s but decidedly less imaginative.  —Stephen Hastings

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