MOZART Le nozze di Figaro (Welser-Möst)
A day of torment, caprice and madness is how the key players of Le nozze di Figaro sum up their 24 hours. And madness – of a creative, cathartic kind – is clearly what Frederic Wake-Walker wants to inject into this 2016 production of Mozart’s opera, which replaced Giorgio Strehler’s La Scala staging after 30 years. Nearly everything is to be toyed with here: not just Cherubino’s undies, the Count’s ego and Antonio’s prize shrubbery but the very walls about our ears.
The ambiguities start during the Overture, in which zany wigged ladies push and prod the scenery, apparently overseen by Figaro (Markus Werba); when period decoration is evoked by Antony McDonald’s ever-whirling designs, it’s through photos beamed on to plain sets. And the costumes! La Scala’s budget for the punk-baroque frocks alone would probably cover the dowries of a hundred Susannas, although in chic Milan you can almost hear the tutting from the stalls as gentlemen revellers suddenly reveal their teeny gold shorts. And who invited the silently cavorting chap with the ape mask?
It’s too much monkeying around. Wake-Walker’s stagecraft isn’t terrible, but nor does it tell us very much we didn’t know. The tension between artifice and naturalism never resolves itself, and, as the drama moves to its finale (the garden denouement is played with lights up and with no proper garden) it becomes frustrating to see fine singer-actors with their wings clipped.
Still, Franz Welser-Möst is clearly keeping his head while all about him sometimes lose theirs: at first the orchestra sound a little stiff, but as the night goes on Welser-Möst unbends and the combination of his Austrian grace and the Italian orchestra’s warmth is appealing; so is the colourful continuo accompaniment of fortepiano and cello. It’s good, too, to have native wit in Andrea Concetti’s grizzled Bartolo and Anna Maria Chiuri’s fruity Marcellina. Krešimir Špicer picks up Don Basilio’s Act 4 aria, a shaggy-dog story that’s no less perplexing each time it’s re found, however enthusiastically picer attacks it. Marianne Crebassa’s limpidly sung Cherubino is delightful.
Some Figaro productions pair off Figaro and the Count as if they are rival stags. But there’s no macho contest between a preening fop of a Count (Carlos Álvarez, vocally authoritative) and the pragmatic fixer, Werba’s Figaro, sharp and amiable, if lacking some weight in his lower register. The differences between Diana Damrau’s entrancing Countess and Golda Schultz’s sparkling Susanna lend extra piquancy, however – Damrau is all silver and silk, imbuing her arias with real drama and pathos; Schultz’s soprano is cream and gold – and the two heart-stoppingly intertwine in the Letter duet. Thankfully, nothing intrudes on this blissful (and rare) moment of stillness.