Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro remains one of opera’s quintessential masterpieces, an opera beloved of both novices and aficionados alike. The Deutsche Oper Berlin’s classic production stars the young members of its ensemble in a lovely evening befitting Mozart’s treasure.

Götz Friedrich's set © Bettina Stöß
Götz Friedrich's set
© Bettina Stöß

Götz Friedrich’s vintage production is smart and stylish. Now in its 37th year at the Deutsche Oper, it is traditional but not trite, and allows Mozart and Da Ponte’s story to tell itself without interjecting any commentary. Accordingly, we see the servants’ quarters, the Countess’ room, the ballroom and the garden, all of it elegant, befitting of a noble household. The production showcases the close relationships between master and servant, and the tensions between the classes that were beginning to erupt at this point in time. Susanna and the Countess are very close; Friedrich has the Countess provide Susanna with the money to bail Figaro out of his debts (literally flinging it at her in panic at the end of the Act II finale) and the women leap into each other's arms on more than one occasion. Figaro's shock and outrage at his master's duplicity resolves itself at the end when he and the Count shake hands: all is forgiven, for now. 

Friedrich shows the audience that it is the opera's women who are in control. As much as the Count, Figaro and Bartolo feel that their authority lends them power, it is the Susanna and the Countess, Marcellina and even Barbarina, operating beneath the masculine system, who really manipulate the opera's action to their own benefit. All that is clear, despite the production's age. Unfortunately, while the production itself is beautiful, the sets seem a little tired. Certainly the wall of paper flowers that bedecks the stage has seen better days, and the brown and orange that the chorus members wear is a nod to the production's 1970's origin. A lick of paint, some new draperies, and a new color scheme for the chorus would work wonders for Friedrich's classic. If the sets and actions seem a little tired, it cannot be blamed upon the singers.

Figaro was well-sung by Marko Mimica, although at times he was overpowered by the orchestra. As the philandering Count Almaviva, John Chest sang with a strong and warm baritone. He played up the humour in the Count’s character, showcasing the frustration of a man who is not as in control of his life as he believes he should be.

Maria Pia Piscitelli sang the Countess, filling in for an indisposed Genia Kühmeier. While her voice was rounded and lovely, she held back during the ensembles, only releasing her full potential during her Act III “Dove sono”. Hers was perhaps too restrained a performance, as there were several moments, especially in the second act ensemble, when she could not be heard over the other singers. Heidi Stober, as Susanna, fared better, though she too was sometimes drowned out by the men. Her Susanna was cheeky and sweet, making her arias, particularly the last act’s “Deh, vieni, non tardar”, a delight to hear. Jana Kurucová’s Cherubino was a delight, her voice huge and agile, rendering the page’s two arias as delightfully sexy.

The evening was rounded out by fine performances from Burkhard Ulrich, Alexandra Hutton, Seth Carico, Stephan Bronk and Ronnita Miller (whose tipsy Marcellina won the evening’s largest ovation). The orchestra, conducted by Matthias Foremny, played with precision, if not passion. In all, a good Figaro, that should further improve as the run continues.

***11