24 January 2015 | TheLittleSongbird
Fun and musically excellent if overdone at times
While there are, personally, better productions of Le Nozze Di Figaro around this 2009 production from Zurich is still well worth seeing. It is a disappointment after the fantastic 2009 Zurich Cosi Fan Tutte, also directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf who gave the best, most intelligently characterised and least bizarre stage direction he's done yet in that production(apart from that twist at the end).
It was a mixed bag visually, expressive lighting and costumes that are appealing and appropriate to the 1950s setting but the set is sparsely furnished and while spacious a little unimaginative and props are basic and not enough. The production is very lovingly photographed though. The staging is has several entertaining moments, like the Act 3 sextet and the charming chemistry between Figaro and Susanna while Porgi Amor and Dove Sono are intimate and filled with heart. Most of the humour, like that in the opera it's of the broad kind, comes over as a real riot. It's also more sexually charged than most Figaro productions but not in a way that distasteful, though it could have been toned down a bit. Some of the staging is overdone, with a couple of ensembles that are a little too busy and erratic while parts of Act 4 are very clumsily directed with an over-reliance on overly exaggerated slapstick, which grew tiresome after a while.
Judith Schmid on occasions is vocally underpowered and while charming and alluring doesn't quite nail Cherubino's conflicted emotions and impetuousness. Michael Volle is superb vocally, a rich beautiful voice with great musicianship and phrasing without ever blustering but Bechtolf makes the Count far too much of a comic(complete with slapstick that is so over-used it gets tiresome) buffoon instead of the menacing, arrogant and sexually conflicted character he actually is. I am not going to blame it on Volle, because Volle has shown in previous performances and since this production that he's a fine actor, though admittedly in more serious roles. The harpsichord also could have been much more prominent in the recitatives, it's very exposed in these sections but, maybe it was the sound quality, unfortunately you have to strain your ear to hear it properly.
Musically, the production is excellent. The orchestra play with lyrical style and vigour as well as depth and supple phrasing. The chorus's role is not a big one but they sing solidly and certainly do look like mannequins dramatically. Franz Welser-Most shows himself to be a flexible and sympathetic conductor while also an energetic and exuberant one, there's some really classy conducting here. Of the performances Malin Hartelius is the standout as a note-perfect and deeply felt Countess, she has a lovely silvery voice and brings poise, dignity and poignancy to the role(Dove Sono is a knockout). There is also a clear class distinction and difference between her and Susanna in their scenes together, something that is not always seen in productions of Figaro. Erwin Schrott is handsome, hearty and charismatic as Figaro and sings with commanding warmth and non-stop commitment to the music. Martina Janckova is incredibly charming as Susanna as well as witty, the comic timing she brought to her delightful Despina in Zurich's Cosi is brought here albeit more subtly, and she sings Deh Vieni Non Tardar beautifully.
Irene Frideli is a vocally stylish and exuberantly acted Marcellina while Carlos Chausson brings a robust voice and strong acting skills as Bartolo(though he has had roles that show off his comic timing better). Martin Zyssert's Basilio is sung very characterfully and while he overacts in places and comes over as a little vaudevillian he does show a gift for comedy and you could tell he was really enjoying himself. Eva Liebau's Barbarina is charmingly sweet as well. In conclusion, overdone in the slapstick department and Bechtolf's stage direction for the Count didn't work for me but this Zurich Figaro is fun and musically excellent, Hartelius really being the main person to see it. 7/10 Bethany Cox