Director Dieter Dorn’s production of Le nozze di Figaro takes place in a stark world. White predominates, with only the occasional turquoise door or chair. This period staging lacks the splendor of most, and its simplicity puts the focus entirely on the cast. With singers and actors this strong, that’s just as it should be.

Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Anita Hartig (Susanna) © Wilfried Hösl
Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Anita Hartig (Susanna)
© Wilfried Hösl

Luca Pisaroni is wonderfully at home in the title role, eavesdropping, making up stories, and forcing laughs with an ease that makes me suspect he has something of Figaro in him off-stage, too! His Figaro seems younger than most, and his heartbreak in the final act when he suspects Susanna has betrayed him is deeply affecting. It’s hard to imagine a better singer for the role: Pisaroni shows off a strong voice, impeccable Italian, and wonderful comedic inflections. Fortunately, he is well-matched by Anita Hartig’s Susanna. She clearly cares very much for Figaro, Cherubino and the Countess, and she takes gleeful pride in her schemes to foil the Count’s advances. Hartig is the quintessential soubrette, with a light, pure soprano that carries well. She uses its sweetness and range of volumes and textures to excellent effect, especially in “Deh vieni, non tardar”.

Cherubino suffered a last-minute cast change, but Cecelia Hall has stepped in with aplomb and endearing awkwardness. Despite a disastrous first aria (it wasn’t clear exactly what went wrong, but she and the orchestra seemed to be on different pages), she kept singing beautifully and stayed in character. She cuts a dashing figure in trousers (and manages to look awkward in female attire), so it’s easy to understand why so many women find her Cherubino irresistibly adorable. Her air of noble resolution as she launches herself off the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit is particularly funny.

Véronique Gens’ Countess often seems overly theatrical, but that makes sense as a character choice. (The Countess, after all, must resort to stratagems to deal with her husband, and she’s presumably not an experienced deceiver.) Her two arias reveal a big, breathtakingly beautiful soprano. That same voice feels a little overpowered and off-kilter during “Canzonetta sull’aria”, but I consider that a worthwhile trade-off. As her philandering husband, Gerald Finley manages to play a despicable character without losing our sympathy entirely. The role of the Count doesn’t give him many opportunities to show off the lyrical qualities of his voice, but he still manages to impress with his vocal and dramatic range. Both of these nobles could use better fashion sense, though – the Countess nearly dons a red dress with turquoise shoes, and the Count has appallingly gaudy taste in dressing gowns!

Gerald Finley (Count Almaviva) and Anita Hartig (Susanna) © Wilfried Hösl
Gerald Finley (Count Almaviva) and Anita Hartig (Susanna)
© Wilfried Hösl

Maestro Ivor Bolton keeps the Bavarian State Orchestra playing at a breakneck speed throughout. He clearly loves this opera – not only does he gesticulate wildly with the baton, he also nods along and mouths the words! The orchestra plays with practiced precision. The violins sound particularly lovely, especially in the overture.

The bare-bones, realistic staging becomes more imaginative in the final act. The white walls of the Count’s manor also serve as the garden, and the way the light shines through those (fabric) walls sometimes allows us to see the shadows of eavesdroppers. The white cloth on the ground acts as a sort of invisibility cloak – characters hiding behind it remain unseen by other characters. This provides a lot of fodder for comedic moments, as some characters lose and scramble to recover their bits of cloth. Other comedic touches throughout the opera, such as Barbarina’s hand emerging from under the curtain and the repeated knocking that exasperates Figaro at the beginning of Act III, also work well. I could happily have dispensed with Don Curzio’s exaggerated stutter, though. Equally importantly, the opera doesn’t pretend that serious issues are funny: the Count’s sexual assaults of Susanna appear as just that, and they are uncomfortable rather than comic. Similarly, the happy ending is appropriately ambiguous: although the Countess pardons her wayward husband, disputes seem to arise in the finale. Just because this is a comedy, it doesn’t mean the characters live happily ever after. The audience, on the other hand, is sure to go home happy with this unobtrusive production and marvelous cast.