Opéra National de Paris 2021-22 Review: The Marriage of Figaro
(Credit: Miguel Lorenzo Mikel Ponce)
“Le Nozze di Figaro” was one of many productions staged by the Paris Opera (Paris Opera), which has been hit hard by the pandemic, suffering from the cancellation of several performances and multiple cast changes with reruns coming in at very short notice. Before February 3 performance in the Palace garnish, it was announced to the audience that many performers had been replaced at the eleventh hour as some soloists sang in masks. The house has apologized for the inconvenience caused. The audience reacted to this announcement with loud applause.
Calling all covers
Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni was one of the singers not originally chosen. Figaro is one of his emblematic roles: he has performed it all over the world since his operatic debut in 2001. It was a luxury that such a Mozart specialist could step in. Her diction, fraseo, use of dynamics and ability to effortlessly play and sing recitatives organically are spellbinding. Therefore, he has full control of the score and is deeply engaged in every scene. His voice is ideal for a role written for a deep voice between the medium and the treble. Its timbre is warm and round, while its vibrato is balanced and homogeneous. But it has issues in its upper range. His high Fs in the duet “Se a caso madama” and his first aria, “Se vuol ballare”, sounded uneasy, forced and with an excess of air. This problem was especially noticeable when he had to sustain tones higher than D, despite his phrasing in the upper register being impeccable. His interpretation of “Non piú andrai” was excellent because, even though the range was high, he was not required to maintain the high notes. The highlight of Pisaroni’s performance was his fourth-act aria, “Aprite un po’quegl’occhi”, and it was performed with rage and warm tenderness all at the same time. His portrayal of Figaro was realistic and believable, and although it ended up being a bit straightforward, it was on par with the rest of the cast.
Chinese soprano Ying Fang portrayed the cunning bride, Susanna. She has a round, lyrical voice and amazing projection, which makes her voice bright and resounding. Susanna is a delicate role. It takes a light voice to portray a young woman while at the same time the writing is central and with several descents to low Cs and As. Fang’s voice was effortless: powerful and gentle at the same time. It turned out to have a strong midrange while keeping a lighter sound. His rendition of the fourth act aria, “Deh, vieni, non tardar,” is full of emotion and lyricism. His style was perfect and his portrayal was strong and determined.
Swedish soprano Maria Bengtsson interpreted Countess Almaviva. She is challenged to start her performance with the lyrical and melancholic aria “Porgi, amor”, where Bengtsson showed off his expansive legato lines, total control of dynamics and crisp attack of the notes. She is completely exposed in this tune due to the light orchestration, and her lack of vocal projection was noticeable, especially in the upper register, and her voice sounded distant. However, she had no problem with the two high C ascents on the terzetto in act two. His rendition of his third-act aria, “Dove sonno”, was moving and sentimental. But her lack of projection was sadly audible during the “canzonetta sull’aria” duet, where her voice sounded weak when heard alongside Fang’s powerful lyrical vocals.
British baritone Christopher Maltman was another singer who wasn’t originally cast in the production, standing here as the lascivious Count Almaviva. Maltman frequently interpreted the Count and Don Giovanni, which made him familiar with Mozart. He has a completely equal lyrical and brilliant timbre throughout his range, and he showed no problem with the central writing of this role. He displayed his elegant fraseo and his crisp, sure attacks of high notes. This was particularly clear in the F sharp of his third-act aria, “Hai giá vinta la causa… Vedrò mentre io sospiro,” although the coloratura section of the aria was a bit muddled. It portrays an elegant and seductive Count, particularly well rendered thanks to the naturalism and realism of the staging.
French-Italian mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre played the trouser role of Cherubino. She has a soft, round timbre and a fascinating ability to crescendo/diminuendo, proving to be ideal for this “adolescent” character. His first aria, “Non so piú”, is sung with exquisite delicacy and the famous “Voi che sapete” with amorous intention and cheerfulness. His personification of this rebel was astonishing: a starry-eyed and lascivious “adolescent”, but above all a realistic imitation of a naive “boy”. Wearing sportswear and a baseball cap, she certainly looked the part. It was hilarious to see her taking selfies in “Justin Bieber” poses with her cellphone. Desandre studied ballet at a young age, which allowed him to dance perfectly on point during the choir “Ricevete, oh padroncina” in the third act, where Cherubino was dressed as a ballet dancer.
German soprano Dorothea Röschmann was a real gift in the short supporting role of Marcellina. She has sung both Susanna and the Countess throughout her career and is therefore no stranger to this opera. His fourth-act aria was cut, as is often the case, so that his role was limited to short interventions and ensemble numbers, but Röschmann was still able to show his powerful lyrical sound and his strong stage presence in those moments.
Russian soprano Kseniia Proshina and Italian tenor Gregory Bonfatti were brilliant in the supporting roles of Barbarina and Bartolo, respectively, singing with adequate style and believable portrayals of their respective characters.
Staging at odds with Libretto
British artist Netia Jones organized the staging, set, costumes and video screenings. This new production of “The Marriage of Figaro” explored, once again, the idea of a “theatre within the theatre”, situating the action behind the scenes of the Palais Garnier. Jones created realistic reproductions of the soloists and choir boxes, which contrasted delightfully with the imaginative decor of the costume-making area and the stage itself. Jones uses projections throughout the show. Aristocratic characters, such as the Count, Countess, Bartolo and Marcellina, are depicted as opera singers. Susanna takes care of the wardrobe, Figaro takes care of the wigs and Barbarina is a member of the ballet choir.
There is nothing new in this production. The premise of “theatre within a theatre” and staging the opera in the same theater in which it is performed has been made abundantly. But the production works; nonetheless, the action is nimble and fun. The problem is that the concept is so far from the libretto that there are multiple contradictions between what is sung and what is physically done on stage. This is a common problem in modern opera. This detachment between libretto and staging makes the plot unnecessarily confusing. It’s hard to believe that Susanna locked herself in the bathroom of the Countess’ dressing room, and while the costume changes between Susanna and the Countess in act four are cleverly done, setting the action on a empty stage does not help in the opera. story of characters hiding and exchanging places in a garden at night. The special effect that showed the real ballet hall behind the stage of the Palais Garnier Opera was magnificent in its design: golden decorations, chandeliers and mirrors. However, this visual appeal works so well because it evokes the palatial world of the original libretto, as opposed to the imposed narrative of “theatre within a theatre”.
The treatment of the scenes and the characterization of the roles were incredibly realistic, so much so that at times it felt more like a drama than the light-hearted comedy based on Beaumarchais’ play. It’s true that the plot is political and has social and feminist ideological narratives, but if the acting gets too serious then all the comic twists in the action seem ridiculous. Jones tended to have the singers in their underwear, and although this original idea worked very well for Figaro in his first duet with Susana, and when the Countess changed her costume in act two, it was somewhat awkward to seeing Maltman strip naked during the final section of his third-act aria, only to end up in his underwear for the play’s final bars.
Dudamel and Orchestra rose to the challenge
The new musical director of the Paris Opera, Gustavo Dudamel, was in charge of the orchestra. He presented the usual version of the score with the traditional cuts: mainly the airs of Don Curzio and Marcellina in act four. His approach is energetic and he chooses the right tempos to preserve the fluidity of this comedy. Comedies demand quick action, unlike the bloated tempos of tragedies and dramas. He extracted the brilliance and harmonic richness of the orchestra. Although there were no notable errors, it would be unfair to criticize the work of the orchestra in any way when some musicians had joined at such short notice and with little or no of repetitions. Therefore, we can only salute the efforts made by the company to continue to present this new production by following all health alerts and new protocols to maintain the safety of artists, staff and the public.
The choirs of the Paris Opera performed perfectly in the short interventions they have in this opera. This performance was also broadcast live to cinemas around the world.