Teatro di San Carlo closed its Opera Festival summer season with Le nozze di Figaro, which director Chiara Muti staged as a timeless classic, an opera which is naturally great without imaginative symbolism and bizarre superstructures. Mozart’s Figaro is a tough opera to produce. More than others, it requires acting skills and energy from the cast. The question remains the same: is opera theatre with music, or music with drama? Muti's response reveals her theatrical origins, as she evidently believes that in the beginning there is a story to be performed; so she turns each and every libretto and score detail into characterisation and stage movement, along with vocal style. In doing so, it is the clarity of the narration that draws benefits.

Muti’s staging is set around a revolving square platform in front of a suspended gallery, designed by Ezio Antonelli with costumes by Alessandro Lai. Muti's familiarity with the stage and her understanding of Mozart’s score (she’s Riccardo Muti’s daughter, after all), allows her to exploit all the comedic elements in the story, while highlighting one: the clash of social classes the Enlightenment.

It’s a fact that Da Ponte and Mozart (after Beaumarchais’s play) overtly challenge the social codes of the 18th century, and Figaro (only three years before the French Revolution) is free to behave insolently towards the unscrupulous Count.

But, as dramatic action and theatrical mechanism gained the upper hand over the musical aspects, does this production work? I enjoyed the theatre more than the music, because of the director’s slant but also because of conducting that lacked some personality. The Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro di San Carlo were good overall, but Ralf Weikert’s conducting did not sound very much Austrian. The orchestra's playing lacked Mozartean glamour, and character. The musical line showed uneven tempi.

However, this Nozze was a solid performance and a theatrical success, undoubtedly, and the singers were excellent. Simone Alberghini was a straightforward, aggressive Almaviva, with a secure technique as required in his Act III aria. Brighter baritone Alessandro Luongo’s Figaro showed joviality alternated with frankly outspoken insolence.

Young Neapolitan soprano Rosa Feola was an amiable Susanna, always in the heart of the fast-moving action. Her light voice finely contrasted with the darker-voiced Countess of Eleonora Buratto, whose beautiful vibrato and elegant textures provided a fine dramatic quality to her two great arias, especially in “Dove sono i bei momenti”. Mezzo Marina Comparato's light and agile voice made her an ideal Cherubino, both in the brilliant “Voi che sapete” and the ardent “Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio”.

Each of the smaller roles was remarkable. Fabrizio Beggi (Bartolo) and Laura Cherici (Marcellina) were amusing as Figaro’s “parents”.  The Don Basilio of Bruno Lazzaretti, the Don Curzio of Saverio Fiore , the Antonio of Matteo Peirone and the Barbarina of Giulia Semenzato were all vocally appropriate and suitably played.