Marco Arturo Marelli's production of Le nozze di Figaro for Vienna's Volksoper, originally mounted in 2012, is scenographically uncluttered and unfolds smoothly. Movable walls, some adorned with Baroque frescoes, partition the stage in ways that remind the viewer of the easy proximity of the masters and servants' quarters in Almaviva's estate. When the stage opens up to its fullest for the Countess' bedroom, its vastness shrouds her penetrating and gloomy loneliness. She recoils as Susanna tries to let in some light. Even if tempted by Cherubino, her heart longs most for the Count and she is quick to welcome him to her bed amidst the chaos. The overall handling favors reconciliation, while the final tableaux of all of the principals dining together suggests a harmonious representation of egalité.

Günter Haumer (Count Almaviva), David Steffens (Figaro) and Melba Ramos (Countess Almaviva) © Barbara Pálffy | Volksoper Wien
Günter Haumer (Count Almaviva), David Steffens (Figaro) and Melba Ramos (Countess Almaviva)
© Barbara Pálffy | Volksoper Wien

Cherubino, as resiliently sung and acted by Elmira Almadfa, embodies the fresh air that runs through this production. Jeffrey Treganza's Don Basilio and Elisabeth Schwarz's Barbarina oustandingly capped the cast with their precise, spirited musical interpretations and engaging stage presence, complemented by Anita Götz's plucky Susanna, who partnered strongly with Almadfa, David Steffens' Figaro and Melba Ramos' Countess. Günter Haumer cuts a strikingly handsome Count when he strolls bare-chested into Susanna's room, but without the dark vocal authority that some of his more violent and abusive turns invite. Haumer sounded clearest and strongest early in Act III.

Anita Götz (Susanna) and David Steffens (Figaro) © Barbara Pálffy | Volksoper Wien
Anita Götz (Susanna) and David Steffens (Figaro)
© Barbara Pálffy | Volksoper Wien
In this third performance of the revival run, the singers and orchestra were often out of synch, and there were some ungainly lurches in dynamics. The Act II and IV finales were welcome exceptions, full of brilliant energy when needed. A McNulty fortepiano warmly enhanced the recitatives and offered some appreciated self-referential humor. Following the cue of Cherubino as a through-line to the production (we first glimpse him bedecked in orange from head to toe during the overture), and perhaps in the spirit of the composer, keyboardist Eric Mechanic wove Cherubino's music into several transition scenes. Early in the Act IV finale, a musical echo (or rather foreshadowing) of Rossini's Figaro emerged, alluding to the later composed opera based on Beaumarchais' pre-story to that of Figaro's marriage. In this staging "Dove Sono" also links to the pre-story, with the Countess singing her nostalgic reflection while slowly drawing aside the cover to an onstage keyboard. As the younger Rosina, this was the instrument at which she and Almaviva (disguised as the music teacher) drew physically close for the first time.

Marelli's engaging and coherent staging wraps things up neatly, as befits the comedic genre. Yet one of the many reasons we continue to stage Mozart's opera is that it ripples with ambivalence – social and political tension that continue to resonate in a post-French Revolution world. The Count is especially bold and relentless in his pursuit of Susanna in this production, and like the stereotypical theatrical figure that he is, we know he is not going to change his ways although he seeks and swiftly earns, in this case, the Countess's pardon at the end of the garden fiasco. Figaro and Susanna's victory – marriage with her honor intact – is indeed a small one. We know Almaviva's type all too well: the chauvinistic, womanizing figure whose self-image knows no bounds, and whose respect for others, let alone genuine democracy, is but a charade. As the Western world rapidly descends a slippery slope in terms of social progress, I found myself wanting Mozart's path-breaking opera to open up more meaningful vistas on the fragile world in which we live.