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2011, Salzburg Festival, Nozze di Figaro

Le Nozze di Figaro

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte after Beaumarchais
Venue and Dates:

House for Mozart, Salzburg Festival
27, 30 July, (2),4, 11, 13 August 2011
(2.8. will be a concert performance in Ingolstadt (Germany) “Salzburg Festival on tour”)

Conductor: Robin Ticciati
Production: Claus Guth
Set Designer:  Christian Schmidt
Costume Designer:  Christian Schmidt
Lighting Designer: Olaf Winter
Choreographer: Ramses Sigi

Performers:

Il Conte Almaviva Simon Keenlyside
La Contessa Almaviva Genia Kühmeier
Susanna
Marlis Petersen
Figaro Erwin Schrott
Cherubino
Katija Dragojevic
Marcellina Marie McLaughlin
Bartolo Franz-Josef Selig
Basilio Patrick Henckens
Barbarina Malin Christensson
Antonio Adam Plachetka
Cherubim Uli Kirsch
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor

note: The first performance will be radio broadcast on 30 July 19:30h in Ö1 (Austrian Radio)

link to Salzburg Festival site for tickets and other informations

video-clip of Austrian TV (ORF) with little excerpts

Soundbites

Kurier, 28.7.2011

“Nachtkritik: Das Opernprogramm der Salzburger Festspiele startete mit der Wiederaufnahme von Mozarts “Le Nozze di Figaro”.  …. Die Besetzung ist großteils fabelhaft. Am meisten besticht Marlis Petersen als Susanna, auch Genia Kühmeier gestaltet die Partie der Gräfin berührend. Erwin Schrott ist ein profunder Figaro, Simon Keenlyside ein sehr guter Graf. Nicht annähernd so überzeugend agiert Katija Dragojevic als Cherubino…..”

Complete English Translation by Petra Habeth

Much applause for Salzburg’s “Figaro”

Night review: the opera programme at the Salzburg Festival began with a revival of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”.

The first opera opening night of the festival was a revival: Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” directed by Claus Guth This shows an austere, cold, “Figaro”. Many scenes seem illogical – as previously or now even more because the conducting of Robin Ticciati, who was standing at the podium of the great Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, did not always suit the staging. The musical setting is much fresher, more dynamic than the rigid staging.

The cast is mostly fabulous. Most impressive was Marlis Petersen as Susanna, also Genia Kühmeier acted in the part of the Countess touchingly. Erwin Schrott is a profound Figaro, Simon Keenlyside is a very good Count. Cherubino was not nearly as convincingly acted by Katija Dragojevic.
But the director concentrates anyway more on the character he added: Uli Kirsch as cherubim, a kind of alter ego of Cherubino, who dominates the play and ultimately lets Cherubino die. Much applause.

Ljubiša Tošić,Der Standard, 28.7.2011

“Pausenkritik … Das alles herzustellen, dazu bedarf es allerdings entsprechender Künstler. Erwin Schrott (als Figaro) ist der gewohnt virtuose Sängerdarsteller, Simon Keenlyside (als Graf) ein ebenbürtiger Kontrahent, Marlis Petersen (als Susanna) jene bekannte Inhaberin einer souveränen Stimme….”

Ernst P. Strobl, Salzburg.com,28.7.2011

“Nachtkritik: Idealhochzeit mit Anlauf   … Der neurotische Graf ist Simon Keenlyside, seine Gräfin ist Genia Kühmeier, die dem Abend einsame Höhepunkte beschert.   …  Dort gibt es Höhepunkte am Laufmeter. Simon Keenlyside als Graf, Genia Kühmeier als innigste aller Gräfinnen, Erwin Schrott als bebrillter, gestenreicher Figaro und Marlis Petersen, die sängerisch mit wunderbarer Stimmführung, hinreißender Darstellungskunst in allen Gemütslagen und Intelligenz zu einem Kraftzentrum der Auführung wird. Katija Dragojevic ist ein ausgezeichneter, bezaubernder Cherubino. …

Kleine Zeitung, 28.7.2011

“…. Großer Applaus im Haus für Mozart aber nicht nur für die stimmige, runde, ungewöhnliche und charmant-poetische Inszenierung, sondern vor allem für die Sänger. Selten ist selbst dem langjährigen Festspielbesucher ein derart komplettes Solisten-Ensemble untergekommen, in dem es nicht die kleinste Schwachstelle zu bemerken gab. Genia Kühmeier begeisterte in ihrem Rollendebüt als “Gräfin. Stark auch Simon Keenlyside als “Graf”, Marlies Petersen als “Susanna”, “Cherubino Katija Dragojevic und in der Titelrolle Opernstar Erwin Schrott. ”

Tiroler Tageszeitung, 28.7.2011

” …Selten ist selbst dem langjährigen Festspielbesucher ein derart komplettes Solisten-Ensemble untergekommen, in dem es nicht die kleinste Schwachstelle zu bemerken gab. …  „Graf“ Simon Keenlyside überzeugte stimmlich und musikalisch, sogar in unglaublich sportlichen Nahkampf mit dem stummen Cherubin. …”

Christopher Irrgeher, Wiener Zeitung, 28.7.2011

” …  Doch heute besteigt dieser Amor nicht mehr den gebirgshohen Bo Skovhus, nun schwitzt Simon Keenlyside unter der Doppelbelastung – gilt es doch, mit Amor am Rücken aus voller Kehle zu singen. …

Simon Keenlyside, als Graf ein rechter Tunichtgut, changiert zwischen nobler Stimmkultur und kräftiger Attacke.  … ”

Heidemarie Klabacher, Drehpunktkultur.at, 29.7.2011

“Ein Strauss-Kahn der Opernbühne … Simon Keenlyside ist ein ausgewachsener Widerling von einem Grafen, der sich nach jeder versehentlichen Berührung mit Untergebenen die Hände am Taschentuch abwischt und mit Charme oder Gewalt (die Unterschiede sind nur graduell) an allem vergreift, was weiblich ist. Ein Strauss-Kahn der Opernbühne. Die Stimme Simon Keenlysides ist beweglich, alert, brillant geführt – von wahrhaft verführerischem Schmelz.  …”

Wilhelm Sinkovicz, Die Presse, 29.7.2011

“Figaros Hochzeit klingt nur gut … Ihren Grafen, Simon Keenlyside, verlässt der baritonale Mut nicht einmal, wenn ihm der Todesengel im Nacken sitzt! …”

Ernst Naredi-Rainer,Kleine Zeitung, 29.7.2011

“Figaros Hochzeit: Exzellentes, neu formiertes Ensemble  … Simon Keenlyside als aufbrausender, mit seinem sehnigen Bariton wunderbar differenziert singender Graf. …”

Ljubisa Tosic, Der Standard,29.7.2011

“Poetische Triebentfesselung … Und: Auch Simon Keenlyside (als neurotisch-aggressiver Graf) und Genia Kühmeier (als Gräfin) gehören zu dieser Luxusbesetzung. …”

Volker Boser, Abendzeitung + Kultur-Vollzug.de, 29.7.2011

“Super-Sänger und Pastell-Dirigat: Salzburg eröffnet mit Mozarts “Figaro”  … Den stärksten Beifall bekam später dann Simon Keenlyside als Graf Almaviva: Claus Guth hat seiner Inszenierung von Mozarts „Le nozze di Figaro“ eine zusätzliche, stumme Figur mit Engelsflügeln hinzugefügt, die den Sänger während seiner Arie „Hai già vinta la causa!“ ziemlich aufdringlich attackieren darf, ihn sogar zu Boden wirft und über die Bühne schleift. Warum? Das weiß wohl nur der Regisseur. Simon Keenlyside sang dennoch in stoischer Ruhe zu Ende. Der Saal tobte. …  Ein glückliches Händchen bei der Sänger-Besetzung macht diese Salzburger Wiederaufnahme vor allem hörenswert. Genia Kühmeier (Gräfin) übertrifft ihre Vorgängerin um Längen. Netrebko-Gefährte Erwin Schrott agiert als aufmüpfiger Figaro niemals überzogen oder auf den puren Effekt erpicht. Ein Superauftritt – wie auch der von Katija Dragojevic, Simon Keenlyside und der erfolgreich dem Soubretten-Fach entwachsenen Marlis Petersen (Susanna). …”

Beate Kaiser, Münchner Merkur, 29.7.2011

“Billiant in neuem Gewand  …  Beide, Keenlysides Prachtbariton und Schrotts unübertroffen fülliger Bassbariton, betören das Publikum, und beide machen sich auch im gewandten Spiel sichtbar Konkurrenz, was das Geschäft nur belebt. …”

Wolfram Goertz, Rheinische Post-Online, 29.7.2011

“Der jüngste “Figaro” aller Zeiten  … Sängerisch ist diese Mozart-Premiere nichts weniger als eine Offenbarung. Wo anfangen? … Oder bei Simon Keenlyside, der den Grafen Almaviva very british als baritonal explosive, autoritäre, doch in seiner lärmenden Eifersucht fast unerwachsene Respektsperson anlegt? … ”

Oberösterreich Nachrichten

5 stars

“”Amor” treibt sein Spiel in einer noblen Villa …  Simon Keenlyside ist mit sattem Bariton ein gesetzter und zugleich Susanne gänzlich verfallener Graf. … ”

Renate Wagner, Der Neue Merker

Premiere: 27. Juli 2011, besucht wurde die zweite Vorstellung am 30. Juli 2011

“… Der Graf, ja, er ist Mittelpunkt des Geschehens, und das passiert eher selten. An sich kann jede der fünf Hauptfiguren dieser Oper sich den ganzen Abend „holen“, wenn die Persönlichkeit des Sängers danach ist, und Figaro, Susanna, Cherubin oder die Gräfin haben das oft genug getan. Der Graf kann es selten, weil er nicht wirklich sympathisch ist – aber auf so brillante Weise unsympathisch wie Simon Keenlyside hat wohl noch keiner die Figur gespielt. Auch nicht mit diesem Feuerwerk von klug ausgeführten, verblüffend stimmigen Details bei aller angestrebter Überzeichnung. Keenlyside spielt die Getriebenheit des notorischen Dauergrapschers, der gar nicht anders kann als sexsüchtig hinter jeder Frau her zu sein (wobei man ihn verdächtigt, dass er im Ernstfall gar nicht so viel bringt – wie die meisten Angeber), er spielt aber auch den Stress, den diese Jagd nach allen Frauen mit sich bringt (manchmal weiß er sich zwischen Susanna und der Gräfin gar nicht zu helfen), und er hat neben seiner permanenten körperlichen Verkrampftheit auch noch den nervösen Tick, immer wieder mit dem Kopf zu zucken… dem Leben abgelauscht. Dabei verbreitet er unübersehbar das Flair des Schwächlings, der sich besonders „stark“ geben will: Das ist alles in allem ganz großes Theater, wie man es selten auf einer Opernbühne sieht. Was seinen Bariton anlangt, so hat Keenlyside nach wie vor das interessante Timbre, und Mozart kommt seiner Stimme entgegen, weil er hier nicht forcieren muss. …”

Elisabeth Bouillon, Forumopera.com,12.8.2011

(visited performance 4.8.2011)
Pour la première fois dans l’histoire du festival de Salzbourg, les trois Mozart/da Ponte sont présentés comme les trois volets d’un triptyque. La « Maison pour Mozart » leur est exclusivement consacrée, concerts mis à part, et les décors très volumineux (pour preuve la forêt de Cosi fan tutte, différente de celle de Don Giovanni) sont stockés sur scène, ce qui représente un véritable tour de force, les dégagements étant très restreints.
Ces éléments de décor, sortes de leitmotivs visuels qui se correspondent, sont imbriqués les uns dans les autres, au sol ou dans les cintres, et doivent suivre un chemin complexe pour retrouver leur place sur scène durant les changements qui se déroulent à vue en un temps record.
La décision de la direction de réunir les trois spectacles en une trilogie étant intervenue a posteriori Claus Guth et Christian Schmidt ont élaboré, à partir d’une réflexion commune sur ce qui rapprochait les trois productions existantes, un concept d’ensemble qui a nécessité d’importantes transformations et une révision complète de la mise en scène de Cosi fan tutte. Les trois opéras étant représentés à raison d’un tous les deux jours, ils devaient obligatoirement être dirigés par un chef d’orchestre différent. C’est peut-être là que le bât blesse : nous verrons si la cohésion est maintenue en dépit de la diversité des interprétations musicales.

La conception qui cimente les trois ouvrages repose essentiellement sur le décryptage et la mise en valeur scénique des différentes formes de l’amour et du désir humain (désir exacerbé, jouissance, amitié, amour, passion, dégoût, haine, remords, désespoir) ainsi que de la perpétuelle ambivalence des personnages, déchirés par des passions qui les entraîne à agir en contradiction avec leur conscience morale, bref, de l’éternel combat entre Eros et Thanatos qu’exprime la musique et que suggère le texte. Dispositif scénique, mise en scène et jeu d’acteurs soulignent ce combat intérieur permanent.
Un chérubin venu du ciel
Dès l’ouverture, le charme opère. Les cordes soyeuses et délicates de l’Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment déroulent leurs sublimes piano qui, par contraste, rendent encore plus fougueux les tutti. Et ainsi jusqu’à la fin, la baguette ailée de Robin Ticciati nous transportera dans les plus hautes sphères, décryptant pour nous l’infinie subtilité de la partition, distinguant les différents plans d’écriture et révélant ses richesses cachées.

Dès l’ouverture  aussi, nous découvrons le décor blanc recouvert d’une peinture légèrement luminescente de Christian Schmitt qui représente le hall d’entrée du château avec son grand escalier. Véritable laboratoire des passions, ce dispositif met en valeur un jeu d’acteurs particulièrement soigné. Dans ce spectacle en noir et blanc, des costumes très seyants, aux tonalités noires, grises et blanches, caractérisent les personnages tout en soulignant les différentes couches sociales. Cette quatrième version des Noces de Figaro est parvenue à un tel degré de perfection qu’elle paraît couler de source. Les multiples efforts déployés par Figaro pour déjouer en une folle journée les plans du Comte, ou ceux de Marcelline et Bartholo, ne forment plus qu’une toile de fond sur laquelle se détache l’essentiel : le combat intérieur des personnages contre les multiples tentations de l’amour défendu. Pour mieux mettre en valeur ce combat, Claus Guth a imaginé l’Amour, Cherubim-Eros 4,sorte de double fantastique de Chérubin dont il porte le costume et qui intervient chaque fois que les personnages se trouvent en situation d’agir en totale contradiction avec leur sens moral et, par conséquent, contre leur volonté. L’amour conjugal finit par l’emporter grâce au sublime « Contessa, perdono ! » du Comte qui chassera Cherubim. Impuissant, il quittera la partie après avoir donné à Cherubino le baiser de la mort..

Cette lecture, originale mais enthousiasmante, du chef d’œuvre de Mozart est servie par des chanteurs dont la prestation scénique et vocale atteint des niveaux exceptionnels. Tous possèdent de belles voix saines, une excellente technique et font preuve d’une grande musicalité. En tête, Simon Keenlyside qui incarne à merveille, grâce sa large palette de nuances, sa souplesse vocale, ses couleurs, son timbre, velouté ou percutant, suivant les situations, un Comte stressé, très attaché aux conventions sociales, en proie à une passion incontrôlable pour Suzanne. Genia Kühmeier, dont il s’agit là d’une prise de rôle, apparaît d’embléeidéale en comtesse. C’est d’abord la nature de la voix, chaude, ronde, parfaitement pure qui émeut, voire bouleverse.Tout comme celle de Marlis Petersen, plus légère mais pourvue des mêmes qualités, dont la Suzanne fait oublier le personnage de soubrette qu’avait interprété Anna Netrebko à la création de 2006. Et l’on ne sait que retenir d’une caractérisation remarquable : sa ravissante silhouette mise en valeur par une robe fluide, évasée ; sa vivacité qui alterne avec des moments de langueur ; l’empathie qui la lie à la comtesse ; la sensualité qui la pousse irrésistiblement vers le Comte ou le courage avec lequel elle résiste aux tentations. Le Figaro d’Erwin Schrott (que nous retrouverons bientôt en Leporello), qui refuse de voir la vérité en face et se bat longtemps contre des moulins à vent, brûle les planches. Son savant parler-chanter, dans la tradition napolitaine, fait avancer l’action à un rythme exceptionnel dans les récitatifs. Katija Dragojevic en Chérubin fait oublier la chanteuse tant l’identification avec ce personnage d’adolescent en mal d’amour, irrésistible sans le savoir, est devenue naturelle. Marie McLaughlin (Marcellina), Patrick Henckens (Bartolo), Malin Christensson (Barbarina) et Adam Plachetka (Antonio) participent à l’immense réussite de ce spectacle accueilli par des ovations dont l’aboutissement, tant scénique que musical, permet d’augurer le meilleur des deux derniers volets de la trilogie.

Regietheater Takes Another Scalp

In Salzburg, Mozart’s beautiful Nozze di Figaro is no match for a postmodernist director.

I used to think that the most painful image I’d seen from a Regietheater opera production was from Peter Sellars’s Trump Tower version of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro: Cherubino, dressed in a football uniform, mechanically humping on his bed during “Non so più cosa son.” That was a happier time. Now I have witnessed Figaro and the Count malevolently slashing Cherubino with a razor during “Non più andrai,” smearing him with his own blood, callously shoving him into a straitjacket, violently stuffing a wad of cash into his mouth, and then leaving him barely conscious, slumped over in despair.

You still have to go a German-speaking country, it turns out, to get the full Clockwork Orange treatment of Mozart. Outside Berlin, there is no better place to do so than at the Salzburg Festival, which Gerald Mortier, as artistic director, turned into a premier venue for Regietheater in the 1990s. Mortier decamped from Salzburg in 2002, but the festival has continued to hire a large quota of opera directors guaranteed to reject the composer’s conception of his own work in favor of their own predictable obsessions, drawn from the dreary postmodern tool kit of nihilism and sexual transgression.

Salzburg’s Nozze di Figaro, directed by the 47-year-old German Claus Guth, is no exception. This is the fourth year that the production has been mounted here since its premiere in 2006; the festival subsequently invited Guth to massacre Mozart’s other two sublime Da Ponte operas, Don Giovanni and Così Fan Tutte. This year, to great fanfare, all three of the Guth Da Ponte trilogy are being staged, with different orchestras and conductors for each—the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, led by Robin Ticciati, in the case of Nozze; the Musiciens du Louvre, led by Marc Minkowski, for Così; and the Vienna Philharmonic, led by Yannick Nézet-Séquin, for Don Giovanni.

Needless to say, Guth has stripped Nozze of the lightness and humanity which are at its core and replaced them with anger and bitterness. The characters act out their angst against an unchanging bleached-white staircase over an empty hallway of Baroque proportions. The costumes are vaguely modern—the Countess wears a black trench coat at one point, though Figaro’s knee pants suggest an Edwardian epoch; the peasants are incongruously tricked out in dour Salvation Army uniforms and hymn books for the sparkling chorus, “Giovani liete.” Whatever the nondescript modern period in which Guth has set the action, it is long past the time when an employer would even know what the droit du seigneur was.

The set contains no furniture and almost no other props—though dead crows inexplicably accumulate on a window pane over the course of the opera. Consequently, the opera’s farcical stage business, such as Cherubino’s dive under Susanna’s chair and subsequent extraction therefrom, is lost.

Lost, too, is the humor. The recognition scene, in which Figaro and Marcellina improbably discover their mother-son relationship, embodied Guth’s cluelessness about comic tradition. The repeated “Sua madre’s!” and “Tuo padre’s!” of the startled participants should be a moment of ebullient silliness, as indicated by the music’s mounting pitches, unbroken major harmonies, and accelerating tempo; instead, the characters stood around woodenly, looking uncomfortable, alienated, and glum. Figaro nervously cleaned his glasses rather than joyfully embrace his long-lost mother. The delightful fillip dissing the Count which ends the episode fell hollowly among this unhappy new family. Not surprisingly, the scene elicited not a chuckle from the audience on the night I saw it, nor was it apparently meant to—contrary to the patent intentions of Mozart and Da Ponte.

Likewise, Guth turns “Non più andrai,” an aria of jaunty levity in which Figaro teases the dandified young page about his coming induction into the army, into a scene of vicious, spirit-deadening brutalization. The music dictates the scene’s character: it is rollicking, happily skittering, and tongue-in-cheek, not malicious and threatening as Guth’s staging would imply. The dominance of tonic-saturated major keys is broken only by the most seductive and fleeting of minor-key modulations on “poco contante” (little money). Guth would undoubtedly invoke the aria’s mocking reference to the dangers of war to justify his gratuitous sadism. Such a desperate excuse would be akin to saying that because “La Calunnia” concludes with the humiliated slander victim dropping dead, it is a funeral dirge and should be accordingly staged. Guth’s grotesque final tableau of Cherubino as dazed sexual-assault victim requires a massive deafness to Mozart’s sophisticated irony and to the cool suavities of Da Ponte’s verse.

Guth, of course, injected explicit sexual content where none is indicated in the text or the logic of the plot. The Count, played here by Simon Keenlyside as a pathetic petty functionary, nervously trying to liberate his neck from its too-tight collar, has regular nooners with Susanna, even eliciting from her a grateful sigh after one quick mounting. Why, then, is the Count so determined to reinstate the droit du seigneur, or so ecstatic when Susanna promises to meet him underneath the pines, since he has already taken her virginity (presuming for the moment that she still had it)?

And yet in those moments where Mozart himself created a charged erotic atmosphere, Guth perversely drained out all the sexual tension in favor of his overarching alienation theme. In “Crudel! Perché finora farmi languir così,” the Count breathlessly confirms Susanna’s intention to meet him in the garden. His pleading “non mi mancherai’s” become jumbled up with Susanna’s coquettish “non vi mancherò’s”; the words and music rush together in an emblem of the Count’s growing excitement. Guth, however, at this one juncture where he could have legitimately indulged his taste for sexual display, places the Count and Susanna far apart and coldly disengaged.

No Regietheater production would be complete without the semaphore drill, in which the characters line up in a row and telegraph inscrutable messages with their arms to an unseen recipient—a convention pioneered by Sellars and dutifully obeyed here by Guth, as the household digests the gardener’s report that someone recently jumped from the Countess’s window.

The musical discovery of the evening was the Swedish mezzo-soprano Katija Dragojevic as Cherubino. Dragojevic shaped her lines with an impeccable sense of courtly style, subtly playing with tempo, stress, and ornamentation. Her voice is clear on top, seductively dark below; when allowed to do so, she bubbled over with the page’s coltish energy. The passage of time has bumped soprano Marie McLaughlin from the role of Susanna to that of Marcellina, yet along with Dragojevic, she displayed the most elegant nuance of phrasing of the evening. (McLaughlin sang Susanna in the greatest staging of Nozze that I have seen, the Jonathan Miller production at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, with Claudio Abbado conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, in 1991.)

The other singers, however technically excellent, made less of an impression than they might have in a less self-indulgent production. Erwin Schrott’s deep, powerful bass is a force of nature, if occasionally somewhat weak on top, but he was not allowed to bring out the full range of Figaro’s cocky character. Soprano Marlis Petersen moved as sinuously as a ballet dancer and blended beautifully with Genia Kühmeier’s Countess in “Canzonetta sull’aria,” taken by conductor Ticciati at a breathless clip, but her Susanna was nevertheless somewhat bland. Kühmeier’s recitatives were finely wrought; a crescendo in “Dove sono” that came out of nowhere was particularly pure and lovely. Simon Keenlyside sang robustly, but as a needlessly shrunken character.

The musical disappointment of the evening was the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Its performance vindicated the usually unmerited criticism lodged by orchestral traditionalists against the period instrument movement. Ticciati conducted most orchestral phrases virtually staccato. As a result, instrumental lines that should have been singing and legato were frustratingly curt and abbreviated. Barbarina’s brief solo, “L’ho perduta! me meschina!,” perhaps the most concentrated expression of melancholy in the repertoire, ended in the pit as abruptly as it had begun.

Such phrasing was a deliberate interpretive choice; other problems, such as a muddy beat and indistinct voicing in the overture, were surely inadvertent. There were still moments of the wonderful energy that one expects from an early-music ensemble: the winds in “Vuoi che sapete,” for example, were as clear and rushing as a fast-moving stream. The orchestra had arrived late to the hall that day, due to flight complications from London; perhaps the tension from the delay lay behind the less than thrilling nature of the performance from an otherwise superlative ensemble. The Vienna Philharmonic chorus put the overhyped Metropolitan Opera chorus to shame in its clear enunciation and attack, though the wonderful nuances of rhythm in the final measures of “Giovani liete” were barely perceptible.

The most criticized aspect of the production was actually the least offensive. Guth added a silent character, following Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s lead in his film version of Don Giovanni. A tall cherub in knee pants (Uli Kirsch) oversaw the action, clambering on top of the Count like a gargoyle, strewing white feathers, and riding a unicycle through the hallway. Compared with Guth’s heavy-handed attempts to alter the opera’s meaning, his invented Cherubim was innocuous and occasionally beguiling.

Regietheater directors like to kill off characters who would otherwise be happily alive if the composer and librettist still had any clout. Calixto Bieito killed off the Pasha (in Bieito’s production, a pimp) at the end of his whorehouse Abduction from the Seraglio at Berlin’s Komische Oper; Guth reportedly kills off Donna Anna at the end of his Salzburg Don Giovanni; here, the silent Cherubim kills off Cherubino with a fatal grip. Such mayhem is a perfect emblem of the monomaniacal self-absorption of the revisionist theater director. Not only does nothing in Figaro’s story line or score justify such a bizarre act, but the Enlightenment convention of comedy positively rules out such a bleak and puzzling ending. Enlightenment opera moves from darkness to light; happy endings result from the fact that order and clarity have been restored. To say: “No, they really haven’t, we, with our postmodern insight, know better and can decode the work’s dark subtext” is to ignore the historical genre of these pieces, as well as their music.

To be sure, the Countess’s ordeal in confronting and foiling her husband’s adulterous designs could have been irremediably painful. Had Harold Pinter worked with this material, the audience might have wished that it had been dispatched at the opera’s end along with Cherubino. But Nozze, thankfully, was not in Pinter’s hands; it was in the hands of Mozart and Da Ponte. Mozart had a more sophisticated understanding of sorrow, suffering, and irony than Guth, Mortier, Sellars, Bieito, and Hans Neuenfels (who tortured Die Fledermaus under Mortier) combined, and he chose to give us a work of reconciliation and grace. At Nozze’s conclusion, the chorus sings: “Love alone could turn such a day of worries, caprice, and folly into contentment and happiness,” as the music moves from a gorgeously suspended hymn of thanks to an explosion of joy. Only someone deaf to Mozart’s transcendent beauty could find this ending ambiguous. Guth is apparently such a listener, since he leaves his characters peevishly flicking away Cherubim’s intrusions and otherwise ill at ease.

Several days after the August 11 performance I attended, I ran into Ruggero Raimondi at a Lang Lang chamber concert. Raimondi had sung the Count in the 1991 Jonathan Miller Nozze. Was he planning to attend the Guth Nozze? I asked him. No, he wasn’t. “Stanno banalizando e distruendo il teatro [They are banalizing and destroying theater],” he said, referring to the Regietheater conformists. A large portion of Salzburg’s audience shares this judgment, to no effect on the Festival’s choice of directors. Indeed, on August 17, the state of Salzburg conferred a medal of honor on Guth for his contributions to the Festival.

There is a sad shortage of comedies in the opera repertoire, since they are far more difficult to create and perform than tragedies. Why, then, destroy the ones we’ve got, especially works of such sublime perfection as Mozart’s? A culture that cannot tolerate Mozart’s comic vision takes itself far too seriously. Fortunately, Regietheater does not have a total monopoly on Salzburg opera programming, as a coming review will recount.

Christian Wildhagen, Frankfurter Allgemeine, 26.8.2011

“Engelchen und Teufelchen … Die tieferen Dimensionen des Stückes kamen mit souveränen Sänger-Darstellern wie Simon Keenlyside und Genia Kühmeier als Grafenpaar, Marlis Petersen als Susanna und dem entzückenden Cherubino von Katija Dragojevic auch so zur Geltung.  …”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane August 12, 2011 at 11:39 am

Bill, if you want a rough (and I mean rough!!) but rapid translation of those particular phrases, just go to google translate and put them in there – you will at least get the gist of what is being said.

Bill Palik July 29, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Petra –
There is no hurry, and I know you are busy, so I’ll just break out my Deutsch-English dictionary. But you know me, pushy, pushy…

Petra July 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I will translate as soon as possible – but it will take some time as I have a lot of work at the moment.

Bill Palik July 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Petra,
Thanks for your little “snapshot” of Nozze – your description goes some distance in filling out the info provided by the photos of the production. Any chance of translating the bits of the reviews that pertain to Simon? Especially the one titled “Ein Strauss-Kahn der Opernbühne” and the paragraph beginning “Simon Keenlyside ist ein ausgewachsener Widerling von einem Grafen.” That paragraph seems very complimentary, as do most of the reviews from what I can glean with my rusty Deutsch…

Petra July 29, 2011 at 7:40 am

Hi Marilyn
had seen the production before only on TV and only parts of it – did not like the conducting and staging and switched off.
Yes, it was fun to see Simon fumbling at his clothes all the time, always keen to kiss Susanna, then wiping his lips guiltily afterwards, always cleaning his hands with a hanky, rearranging his neckcloth (which was in times of “stress” too tight ;-)), with a nervous head movement (do not know how to describe it). But this Count was also very brutal – you can see it on some of the photos too. I was wondering if his Countess had been on the receiving end of some blows from him already …
But I was FULL OF ADMIRATION to see and hear him sing his aria in the 3rd act with the “second” Cherubino on his right shoulder at the beginning of the aria, then being pushed and kicked by him, or dragged around the stage on one leg by him …..and singing as if he would stand motionless … the audience exploded in applause, cheers and bravos afterwards. Amazing.

Marilyn Meeker July 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Thank you so much for getting these “night reviews” out so quickly, Petra . . . if you saw the performance last night, please share your impressions–had you seen this production in 2006 when first presented? Last night, I was at the summer encore of Don Carlo at the movies . . . such a magnificent opera . . . and so powerfully cast . . . I don’t think anyone can carry Posa as dramatically as Simon . . . his confrontation with Philip in Act II is one of the great scenes in opera, I think. Anyway, it would be so much fun to see Simon as the “neurotische Graf”!

Petra July 28, 2011 at 8:15 am

Both corrections done – Ingolstadt AND radio – sorry, fogot to change all sites on which the date appeared – have tickets too 😉

Brigitte R. July 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Hello,
concerning the concert performance of Figaro in Ingolstadt: it’s 2.8., not 4.8. in Ingolstadt. Got tickets 🙂

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