Although Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro has been taped and released on DVD in its original run, when Anna Netrebko sang the role of Susanna and Nikolaus Harnoncourt led the Vienna Philharmonic, I would say that this year’s reprise would have made a more significant document. Not only is the musical performance of superior quality, but also the new cast brought a more natural approach and a more developed sense of comedy that put in perspective Claus Guth’s attempt to Schnitzlerize Beaumarchais. Offering a more convincing performance than Harnoncourt’s is not a difficult task for conductor Robin Ticciati – instead of trying to make a statement by eccentric accents, rit. and acc. effects and schizophrenic choice of tempi, the young English maestro generally gives this music time to breath and even dared to choose paces slower than we are used to hear today in order to let each phrase develop musical and theatrical meaning. This approach might have worked in its full potential if the Vienna Philharmonic were in the pit, instead of a rather dry-toned Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. As it were, phrases expected to bloom and develop expressive tonal colouring were treated to an almost uniformly insipid orchestral sound that only occasionally portrayed the many nuances of expression in Mozart’s music. I found it particularly bothering that Guth insisted on impairing musical values by his dubious theatrical points – whenever Mozart writes a complex ensemble, there is this bothersome actor playing cupid making laugh-provoking jokes to overshadow Mozart’s beautiful polyphony (why?). The poor singer in the role of the Count Almaviva had to sing his very difficult aria carrying the said actor on his shoulders – no wonder he sounded breathless in it (and the fact that he could sing it at all in these circumstances in an evidence of his good technique).
Even if it might be true that Genia Kühmeier is not a big-house Countess, her performance this evening could be the dictionary example of what Mozartian singing should sound. Both her arias were touchingly sung in immaculate tone and absolute purity of line. Curiously, she took first the lower ossia in the act II trio with Susanna and the Count only to nail a very bright and easy top c a few moments later. Marlis Peterson might be lighter-toned, but her high register often sounded richer in comparison and, as a result, she found no problem in presiding over ensembles. She too is a stylish Mozartian with a truly pleasant voice, but the role of Susanna requires a stronger lower register and maybe a little bit more sexiness and playfulness. Even in the acting department, she could sometimes seem too chic for the circumstances (and she was probably the tallest Susanna I have ever seen…!). Katija Dragojevic, on the other hand, has an ideal physique for Cherubino and does not need to work hard for sexiness. Her voice is sensuous and clean-toned, but low notes are not really there and the intonation in her first aria left something to be desired.
Both Simon Keenlyside and Erwin Schrott offer far more varied and interesting performances than the singers featured on the DVD. The English baritone is a truly gifted actor, who brought a very British fastidiousness and an underlying vulnerability to his Count that made his role particularly funny. He seemed a bit short in the lower end of his range and couldn’t always keep a smooth line, but his voice is forceful and well-focused. Erwin Schrott adapted his own vivacious Figaro to the director’s concept and avoided ad libs and excessive enthusiasm, what made him even more persuasive. I have seen him in stronger voice in this role, but he still sang very well in his full-toned basso cantante. The minor roles were well taken by Marie McLaughlin, Franz-Josef Selig and Patrick Henckens, but the act IV arias have been cut (as well as tiny bits of recitative during the opera).