For those who were at last year’s season-opening production of the Teatro Real – an all-singing, all-dancing version of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia – this year’s Le nozze di Figaro will have come as the natural sequel it is literally. The audience was treated to a similar atmosphere – stage designer Emilio Sagi is behind both productions – and had the ever amusing occasion to observe those familiar characters later in life and under Mozart’s new (revolutionary) light.

Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva), Sylvia Schwartz (Susanna) and Elena Tsallagova (Cherubino) © Javier del Real | Teatro Real
Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva), Sylvia Schwartz (Susanna) and Elena Tsallagova (Cherubino)
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

Le nozze di Figaro premièred on 1 May 1786 to great acclaim at Vienna’s Burgtheater. Yet, its popularity in the city was initially short-lived. Only in Prague a few months later would the full magnificence of the opera be truly appreciated. “For here they talk about nothing but Figaro. Nothing is played, sung, or whistled but Figaro. No opera is drawing like Figaro. Nothing, nothing but Figaro”, a thrilled Mozart would write to his pupil and friend Baron Gottfried von Jacquin in January 1787, when his opera filled the local audiences with wonder. The impact in Prague was such that the commissioning of Don Giovanni originated from this time. The entire world has since bowed to the poignancy, the delicacy and the sheer beauty of this miraculous score.

It was with such score in his hand that Ivor Bolton appeared before a first night audience, in an evening of great significance to him: it marked the beginning of his first full season as the Teatro Real’s music director. Premièring with Mozart must have come as bliss to someone so well-versed in 18th century repertoire in general and in the son of Leopold in particular. A spontaneous gesture of enthusiastic encouragement to the orchestra on arrival was arguably a good way of getting everyone in the right mood.

Bolton’s seasoned, attentive and reliable baton proposed a lively, but never rushed, overture. He dissected the different voices of an orchestra that sounded nuanced and confident, thereby setting the stage, as it were. As the curtain rose, he quickly proved that he would not be inattentive to singers either. He shepherded them all with clarity and was able to quickly bring back on track the few unsynchronised moments between them and the orchestra, and between the orchestra and the chorus. True, the orchestra dwarfed some of the singers at times, but that was probably more to do with the diversity of the voices on stage than to an overall imbalance. After all, it is a fact of life that not all voices are created equal; before us was a good example.

Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva) and Sofia Soloviy (Countess Almaviva) © Javier del Real | Teatro Real
Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva) and Sofia Soloviy (Countess Almaviva)
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

There was indeed a broad range of skills – vocally and dramatically – on display. In a plot where women take the limelight and come out as dignified, empowered and certainly smarter than their male partners, the roles of the Countess and Susanna merit special scrutiny. These roles were brought to life by Sofia Soloviy and Sylvia Schwartz respectively. Soloviy was given one of the most moving moments of the evening stage wise: “Porgi amor”, sung as the Countess wakes up to a bright morning and realises the other side of the bed is empty, gave her the opportunity to reveal the woman in love and fear of abandonment, even if her voice did not always retain the warmth this role ideally requires. Schwartz too was at her best in a quiet moment. She sang “Deh vieni, non tardar” delicately, with her discreet but well-groomed soprano coming across limpidly. Elsewhere, she was sadly too often dwarfed by the orchestra, yet was always a welcome presence on stage.

Opposite these witty women, rich in emotional intelligence, stand the less sophisticated, if more hormonal, men. Luca Pisaroni cut a fine figure as Almaviva. His “Vedrò mentr'io sospiro” was vocally fitting if unmatched dramatically – unabated vengefulness is the only option which he did not manage to pull off. Also falling short on the emotional department was Andreas Wolf, whose Figaro was correct but unmemorable – he did deliver stimulating singing in his not less irate “Se vuol ballare”. Of the smaller roles, it is worth highlighting the mischievousness of Elena Tsallagova as Cherubino, particularly in her fine infatuated rendition of “Non so più cosa son”.

Scene from <i>Le nozze di Figaro</i> © Javier del Real | Teatro Real
Scene from Le nozze di Figaro
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

This is an uncompromising classical production. Set in the period it was written for, the wealthy household in Seville is presented as an airy, luminous place. Effective lighting by Eduardo Bravo underscores the gigantic doors, the orange tree-lined patio or the secretive garden. The costumes play along the confused and confusing identities, with a trilogy of dark, light and reddish colours as the basic palette that moves around as much as misunderstandings do. In the end, pretty inexplicably, happiness abounds.

***11