Three years after a memorable Entführung under the baton of Frans Brüggen, the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century continues its exploration of Mozart’s opera repertoire, and they still do their late founder proud. This time, it is with Le Nozze di Figaro and with conductor Kenneth Montgomery that they tour concert halls throughout the Netherlands.

Orchestra of the 18th Century © Simon van Boxtel
Orchestra of the 18th Century
© Simon van Boxtel

At the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on Wednesday night, the British conductor led them into a lively and expressive performance, full of nuanced dynamics and rhythmic choices that emphasized the witty charm of the piece. From the first bars of the overture, woodwinds dazzled, brass sounded surprisingly stubborn, strings throbbed elegantly and one knew these nuptials were going to be enjoyable ones.

As with previous instalments, the opera was presented as a semi-staged performance.  I think director Jeroen Lopes Cardozo could have just as well done without the bright costumes and few props (a frame, a door and some giant plant pots): he had at his disposal a fine line-up of soloists with such convincing acting skills that these all seemed superfluous. Singers acted and sang at the front of the stage, turning their back to the orchestra and conductor. This probably explained a couple of very brief moments of faulty coordination with the orchestra, in an otherwise always finely-timed and well-balanced performance.

Roberta Alexander (Marcellina) and Hubert Claessens (Bartolo, Antonio) played and sang their roles with palpable jubilation. Fabio Trümpi showed off his comedian side by portraying a particularly camp Don Basilio and did not hesitate to disfigure his otherwise perfectly pleasant tenor to play Don Curzio.

Rosanne van Sandwijk gave a lovely performance as the page Cherubino: her light lyric mezzo-soprano was smooth and honey-toned and she acted with all the energy mixed with awkwardness  of a hormone-fuelled teenager. She even jumped off the Great Hall’s stage to flee the returning count.

The couple of servants were well-matched. German baritone André Morsch portrayed a very affable Figaro, singing with a warm and velvety timbre, his voice perhaps only slightly losing resonance at the extreme bottom of the tessitura. Ilse Eerens was a delightful Susanna. Her bright and supple soprano and sparkling diction were a joy to listen to. She made of “Giunse alfin il momento… Deh vieni, non tardar” a highlight of the evening.

Kelebogile Besong’s rich and slightly smoky soprano  isn’t the obvious choice for the Countess, especially in a performance with period instruments, but after the first few seconds of surprise, I actually liked the way it strongly contrasted with her chambermaid’s light timbre. Her arias were well sang. “Porgi amor” revealed a slight pitch problem, but “Dove sono” earned her loud applause from the public. However, it is in the ensembles that I found her vocal colours at their most pleasing and she was superb in the terzetto “Susanna or via sortite”.

I thoroughly enjoyed Henk Neven’s performance as Almaviva. The natural elegance of his full and round baritone alluringly rendered the Count’s aristocratic poise.  His subtle use of colours and agile body language disclosed perfectly the character’s ill-concealed inner rage, without ever falling into caricature.  His stylishly sang  “Ha già vinta la causa !” felt full of frustration ready to explode.

Cappella Amsterdam brought their sterling quality to the choir parts, making these wedding festivities complete.  I for one really look forward to a next Mozart project from the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century.