The premiere of this new production of Le nozze di Figaro during lockdown was originally intended to be a pilot project with a small, negative-tested live audience in attendance. However, due to the increasing Covid incidence numbers in Berlin, this plan was discarded. So – once again – audience access was only via the livestream on the Staatsoper Berlin's website. Certainly, all cultural institutions are trying to hang on to and even expand their audience reach with online solutions. This production also marks the start of a new Mozart–Da Ponte cycle with Daniel Barenboim conducting and Vincent Huguet as director, with Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni to follow in the 2021/22 season.

Nadine Sierra (Susanna) and Riccardo Fassi (Figaro)
© Matthias Baus

Huguet sets his Figaro in the late 1980s defining it as a marriage-crisis action comedy. A multifunctional kitchen with a large counter dominates the first act. This doubles as a fitness space for Susanna to do push-ups as Figaro counts them out. There are three levels for action to take place – under the counter, on the counter and the stairs behind the counter that lead directly to a patio. Set designer Aurélie Maestre captures an Andalusian flair, right down to planters decorated with trencadis (the porcelain shard technique so loved by Gaudí). Clémence Pernoud's costumes reflect the preferred colours of the era – lurex, neon pinks, leopard prints, oversized blazers and cowboy boots. Count Almaviva is a music manager who has married his rock star Rosina – a Debbie Harry (Blondie) lookalike – whose Andy Warhol-style portraits and platinum record trophies decorate his office. He has done well by her, but his eye wanders... not only to Susanna.

Gyula Orendt (Almaviva) and Nadine Sierra (Susanna)
© Matthias Baus

The Staatskapelle Berlin gives Mozart more than enough decisiveness. Barenboim leads them clearly through the turbulences of the libidinously entangled characters, the anxious pizzicato palpitations and the courtly dance rhythms turned with irony, all to be resolved in the semi-darkness of the fourth act with a believably recalcitrant Count.

The young cast proves to be enthusiastic, playful performers. All the scenes of confusion and disguise are brought to life with obvious pleasure, with a sense also for the counteracting nuances and the double-tongued asides in ensembles. First and foremost the ladies: in the Countess' first great aria “Porgi amor”, Elsa Dreisig's slightly metallic soprano suits the rock star's image. By contrast, her “Dove sono” lament about lost love allows time to suddenly stand still. Similarly, Susanna's “Deh, vieni, non tardar” belies the grotesqueness of the final act, which Huguet satirises with the help of animal masks to create a midsummer night's sex comedy. Nadine Sierra takes her time to express her true feelings. Her darkly timbred, glowing soprano, her vitality and natural acting would certainly have provoked ovations in a full house.

Nadine Sierra (Susanna) and Elsa Dreisig (Countess)
© Matthias Baus

And there would have been applause, too, when Sierra and Dreisig sit down at the harpsichord and their voices intertwine indistinguishably when writing their letter to the Count – two women on equal footing, their difference in status cancelled out: it says so in the music. Katharina Kammerloher, who also sang Marcellina in the Staatsoper's previous Figaro directed by Jürgen Flimm, brings fabulous buffo talent when she throws herself into the most crazy volte-face of the plot with curlers and batting eyelashes, admitting to being Figaro's mother. Emily d'Angelo is a tomboy Cherubino touchingly wandering between the sexes and Liubov Medvedeva a cute Barbarina, the rockstar fan. Are the women really on the verge of a nervous breakdown, as Huguet wants us to believe? No, in this labyrinth of identities, they know their way.

Emily D'Angelo (Cherubino) and Elsa Dreisig (Countess)
© Matthias Baus

Baritone Gyula Orendt embodies a Count with choleric fits, who can turn into a credibly sensitive macho in midlife crisis. Baritone Riccardo Fassi's Figaro is a young man full of impatience and offended pride who struggles with his virility. Stephan Rügamer gives a Bartolo full of erstwhile pomp, a good foil for Marcellina's hysteria. In a cameo appearance, the iconic Siegfried Jerusalem plays a Don Curzio slightly overwhelmed by the turn of events and reversed identities.

Huguet states in the programme notes that this opera is Part 2 of a Trilogy of Liberation. We can look forward to his Part 1, Così fan tutte dealing with youth and initiation and Don Giovanni giving us the perspective of maturity until death in Part 3 next season.

This performance was reviewed from the Staatsoper Berlin video stream