Figaro, Count Almaviva’s manservant, wishes to marry Susanna. But she is by no means short of admirers, not least the great man himself. And then up shows Marcellina, who intends to hold Figaro to his promise of marriage, before she turns out to be his own mother. Boredom never even comes close to rearing its head in this comedy of errors, into which Mozart’s genius breathes life and colour. Under the baton of Leo Hussain, Gothenburg Opera’s revival shines with a well ordered ensemble in a timeless staging.

Sofie Asplund (Susanna) and Markus Schwartz (Figaro) © Mats Bäcker | Göteborgs Operan
Sofie Asplund (Susanna) and Markus Schwartz (Figaro)
© Mats Bäcker | Göteborgs Operan

Figaro, 230 years old, speaks to audiences today just as it did when it was new. Today, we can only imagine the rocky road that Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte must have trodden to make this work a reality. The first hurdle lay in Mozart’s choice of material. Performance of Beaumarchais’ French comedy had been forbidden by none other than the Emperor himself, and the current nature of the piece did not appeal to him because of its provocative elements. We should be grateful to Da Ponte for his part in obtaining the blessing of the Emperor Joseph in producing the work and achieving the sensational success of its première. The masterfully drawn characters are shaped by the music, each one developed with precision and bound into the complexity of the plot.

One of the best examples of this was Sofie Asplund in her portrayal of Susanna. At the beginning, she played the role of the young maid to perfection, whereas by the last act, no trace remained of her former mischievousness. In the Rose Aria, her delicate, agile soprano found a soft note, which outlined the development of her character from the young girl into a mature woman. At the première of this production, Asplund was called in as a stand-in, a musical performance which she was fêted for and which was soon seen as the great discovery of the evening. Also outstanding was the portrayal of Cherubino by Ann-Kristin Jones, a young mezzo who switched between youthful impatience and pining away at every entry. Her soft high notes were especially effective in the many declarations of love, shaping her phrases into wide, sensuous legato arcs, made possible by apparently limitless supplies of breath.

The rest of the ensemble also showed their delight in singing Mozart. As Count and Countess Almaviva, Daniel Hällström and Maria Luigia Borsi struck the right tone, as much in their solos as in the many ensembles. Hällström sang the Count with continually strengthening lows, which gave his character the impression of increasing agitation; the Countess found a way out of her self-pity to set her husband up for a fall. In this Aria, Borsi seemed to find her inner balance, just as her character does, and from then to the end, she never lost an enveloping warmth of her voice.

Peter Loguin (Antonio), Lars Arvidson (Bartolo), Iwar Bergkwist (Basilio) & Markus Schwartz (Figaro) © Mats Bäcker | Göteborgs Operan
Peter Loguin (Antonio), Lars Arvidson (Bartolo), Iwar Bergkwist (Basilio) & Markus Schwartz (Figaro)
© Mats Bäcker | Göteborgs Operan

Markus Schwartz’s edgy bass-baritone imparted Figaro with the require bite. As soon as his first aria, “Se vuol ballare, signor Contino”, his angular dynamics showed the growling mischievousness of his character. Only in the quartet with the nobles and Susanna, he was somewhat underpowered and his words therefore submerged.

Stephen Langridge’s production is set in a timeless staging – a house with see-through walls and doors which served to display the thick web of the narrative. So it was always easily possible to understand the connection between characters, even when they were spatially apart. Especially effective was the choice of costumes from George Souglides. From pudding basin haircut to perfect curls, the appearance and hairstyle of each player was ideally suited to their character.

In the first three acts, the sets were dominated by white, whereas the remaining acts were set in black and grey. In the last scene, the bright light gave way to a mystical blue. The craziness reached its zenith in the darkened garden, as the main characters searched for their lovers with torches. With the appearance of the Countess, everything was bathed once more in light and clarity. “My angel, forgive me,” pleaded Daniel Hällström to his stage wife. These four words carried such genuine remorse that his wife, with an understandable smile, brought an end to the drama. In peace, she took the hand of her husband: “how can I be angry, my heart speaks for you.”

 

Translated from German by David Karlin.