by Lynn on February 11, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

2967 - (l-r) Russell Braun as the Count and Josef Wagner as Figaro Opera Company’s production Figaro,  Photo: Michael Cooper 2967 – (l-r) Russell Braun as the Count and Josef Wagner as Figaro Opera Company’s production Figaro,
Photo: Michael Cooper

At the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
After the comedy by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Directed by Claus Guth
Conducted by Johannes Debus
Set and Costumes by Christian Schmidt
Lighting by Olaf Winter
Video by Andi A. Műller
Choreographed by Ramses Sigl
Cast: Jane Archibald
Russell Braun
Michael Colvin
Sasha Djihanian
Emily Fons
Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure
Uli Kirsch
Doug MacNaughton
Robert Pomakov
Helene Schneiderman
Josef Wagner
Erin Wall

The music is beautifully sung and played but heaven help us from directors who get in the way of the work by inserting a silent character who adds nothing to the production and a designer who thinks ‘big and dull’ is a viable design option.

Note: As with Siegfried I am approaching this opera as a form of theatre.

The Story. Susanna and Figaro want to get married. That’s the simple part. They both work for the Count and Countess Almaviva. But the Count is making advances on Susanna and she tells that to Figaro who plans revenge in his own inept way. It’s thought that the Count might invoke ‘the right of the Signor, to sleep with Susanna first before the wedding. Bartolo and Marcellina get into the act in the hopes of making mischief for the engaged couple. Marcellina wants Figaro for herself. Bartolo wants to get even with Figaro for humiliating him earlier. Cherubino, a page, also has his problems and seeks Susanna’s advice. He has been caught in a compromising situation with the niece of the gardener and plans are that Cherubino will be sent away. Cherubino hides to escape this fate. The Count also overhears Don Basilio tell Susanna that Cherubino has a crush on the Countess and that sends the already jealous Count into a rage, vowing to send Cherubino into the military. Figaro asks the Count to unite him and Susanna in marriage and the Count postpones the event.

And that’s only the first Act. One wonders, with so many people confiding in Susanna, when do these people have time to do the housework?

The Production. The dramatically slow curtain rises on Christian Schmidt’s huge, light-grey set of Count Almaviva’s impressively large house. There is a staircase going up stage left, with a door at the top of that landing, with another staircase at right angles to that going up and another staircase at right angles to that. On the main floor there is a large window stage right. There is another door up right. This is one big house with a really dreary colour scheme.

There is a black thing on the steps going up. When it’s picked up it seems to be a large, dead crow. There will be several such dead birds in the production. I’m thinking that the crow is symbolic of foreboding. . Three posed couples (a man and a woman) are positioned around the space. A character with angel wings appears at the window and comes in. Apples are tossed through the window which the winged character catches. Three in all are caught, juggled and then an apple is put at the feet of each couple. I’m wondering if that apple is symbolic of Eve tempting Adam. That can’t be right since no woman really knowingly tempts anyone. It’s the men who are hitting on the women. Hmm. I’m wondering who that winged character is since he’s not in the opera. Symbolic crows, apples, a winged angel not in the opera keeps appearing and disappearing. . Hmmmm.

When Figaro has his own scene and is noting measurements of the place that he and Susanna will live, I’m thinking that he’s referring to the large space at the bottom of the first set of stairs. I’m thinking, ‘this is really a vestibule—a hallway. How odd. Now that can’t be right. Is there another room to which this pertains?’ Perhaps but it’s not clear in the production.

The singing is glorious, even when Guth has singers singing in odd positions. For example the desperately sad Countess (a wonderful Erin Wall) is face down on the floor, raises herself almost in a yoga pose that seems like “upward dog’ and beautifully sings her aria. Challenging, but she rose to the occasion (no pun intended). I am particularly struck by Russell Braun as Count Almaviva. His singing has always been solid and spirited, but as the Count he of course is arrogant, entitled and jealous. That jealously is dangerous because it comes with a potentially violent temper. This opera of the 1780s makes me think of a trial taking place today a few blocks away about another arrogant, entitled person with an alleged propensity for violent rages against women. Art imitates life and vice versa and the result is uncomfortable.

The various pairings and changes in pairings are complex enough in trying to keep them all straight, but Claus Guth expands on that. The names of the various characters are projected above the stage. Then lines and arrows connect who is paired with whom and then some names are circled with other lines connecting names to others until there are so many projected lines, arrows, and squiggly bits connecting so many other names, it all looks like the playbook of the Denver Broncos. The problem is that there are singers singing on stage while all this distracting nonsense is projected behind them. Ridiculous.

Comment. In his program note, director Claus Guth writes: “That was why I wanted, on the one hand, to follow the characters into their darkest psychological depths, but at the same time leave space for exploring the utopian moments in Mozart’s music, which for me are so special in the score of Figaro. An invented character, a kind of Eros angel, indicates this confusing other dimension that pervades the opera. He always appears when the characters find themselves in situations that are diametrically opposed to their intentions when guided by reason.”

In a word, ‘twaddle.’ The Eros angel adds nothing to the proceedings except a distraction from the opera, you know, the opera, the reason why we’re in the room in the first place.

I am always grateful to hear glorious singing of a beautiful, lush score like Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. I am not grateful for a director getting in the way of the piece and imposing his distracting ‘direction and concepts’ on it that does nothing to illuminate the work. All in all, a frustrating night in the theatre.

Presented by the Canadian Opera Company

Opened: Feb. 4, 2016.
Closes: Feb. 27, 2016.
Cast: 12; 6 men, 6 women.
Running Time: 3 hours 30 minutes.

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