BBC Radio 3 is to broadcast every opera by Wagner, Verdi and Britten throughout 2013 – 140 hours of music – in celebration of the composers’ anniversary years. The station will broadcast recordings and live performances from opera houses including The Met, Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Vienna State Opera, La Scala and from the Aldeburgh Festival on Saturday’s ‘Opera on 3’ and Thursday’s ‘Afternoon on 3 Opera Matinee’ slots.
There’s no question about which is my most favourite opera of all times. It is Le Nozze di Figaro. And with this post I’d like to start a series where I will be presenting different takes / productions of my favourite operas (other favourites to come soon).
The production I want to start with is a fairly recent one – from last years Aix-en-Provence festival with the following cast:
Il Conte di Almaviva – Paulo Szot
La Contessa di Almaviva – Malin Byström
Susanna – Patricia Petibon
Figaro – Kyle Ketelsen
Cherubino – Kate Lindsey
Marcellina – Anna Maria Panzarella
Bartolo – Mario Luperi
Basilio – John Graham-Hall
Don Curzio – Emanuele Giannino
Barbarina – Mari Eriksmoen
Antonio – René Schirrer
Apart from Petibon and Byström, none of the above signers were known to me before I watched this production. And I must say that none of them inspired me musically altogether. But that would be something fairly normal with me being quite spoiled by the singers I like. The worst is that some of them were really terrible actors – with the most lukewarm Contessa I have ever seen in terms of acting.When she was trying to express some emotions it was so artificial that it made me cringe. The best of the lot was probably Paulo Szot, who kept reminding me of someone visually, but to this moment I have no idea who. I liked his acting and singing wasn’t bad too – but on the other hand nothing I would remember. Altogether in terms of singing it was a forgettable experience, even with such a star as Petibon. She did a much better job in Salzburg’s production of Cosi Fan Tutte, to which I will come back, I hope, soon.
As I have some professional background in theatre I am always interested in the productions of operas, sometimes more so than in the singing. A disclaimer upfront: I am a great fan of modern, very modern productions, sometimes referred to by the opera community (particularly American, shall I say) as Eurotrash (can’t remember if they actually capitalize it, but probably not). This production in therms of concept I would not call particulary revolutionary. Yes, it does remove the historical context of the opera and brings it forward into a contemporary world – a cross between a wedding dress shop and modern day apartment but there is not much concept to it. The set has a feeling of a cardboard box, which – whether intentional or not (I’d go for not) – added a sort of make-shift air to the production. The mostly dull colors also didn’t help much in making the set something memorable.
The idea of placing the action in a shop with wedding dresses is not really new – it had appeared in one of my favourite productions of LNDF – with Christine Schäfer as Cherubino (here an excerpt).
There is a moment with potentially interesting use of dog – but being a dog owner I am always in double minds over whether this is such a good idea. Plus, when the dog is on stage I cannot concentrate much on what is going on – I always observe the dog for signs of stress and anxiety. This one was a beautiful Weimaraner (appropriate of course for the context of the Count coming back from a hunting expedition) and seemed well trained although it was so obvious he did not have a slightest idea what was going on and what was really expected of him.
What I really appreciated was the end of the production, when the Countess is supposed to forgive the Count – and here she of course sings all the appropriate notes and words but her body language and movement on stage at the end say something to the very contrary.