Monday, 1 July 2019

Lively detail and strong character: Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden, with Christian Gerhaher's role debut as Figaro

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Christian Gerhaher, Joelle Harvey - Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Christian Gerhaher, Joelle Harvey - Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Mozart Le nozze di Figaro; Joélle Harvey, Christian Gerhaher, Julia Kleiter, Simon Keenlyside, Kangmin Justin Kim, dir: David McVicar/Thomas Guthrie, cond: John Eliot Gardiner; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 June 2019 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A strong cast brings David McVicar's conception of the Count Almaviva's grand country estate to life

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Kangmin Justin Kim, Yaritza Veliz - Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Kangmin Justin Kim, Yaritza Veliz
Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

For the production's sixth revival on 29 June 2019, Thomas Guthrie was the revival director with a strong cast led by Sir John Eliot Gardiner in the pit. Christian Gerhaher was Figaro with Joélle Harvey as Susanna, Julia Kleiter as Countess Almaviva, Sir Simon Keenlyside as Count Almaviva and counter-tenor Kangmin Justin Kim as Cherubino. There were a number of notable debuts, Christan Gerhaher's role debut as Figaro, Julia Kleiter and Kangmin Justin Kim's Royal Opera House debuts, Joélle Harvey's main stage Royal Opera House debut plus Diana Montague (singing Marcellina) celebrating the 40th anniversary of her company debut.

John Eliot Gardiner and the orchestra started things with a lithe and lively account of the overture, here a counterpoint to the preparations for the start of 'la folle journée'. Throughout Gardiner kept the piece flowing, the fast was fast without being driven and the slower speeds were well calibrated to the lighter voices in the cast. Gardiner seemed to be urging us not to over dwell on the score's plums but on the wider drama. Gardiner has great expertise with modern instrument orchestras, and long gone are the days when the Royal Opera House orchestra fought with period performance specialists, so this was an intelligently styled evening.

Making his role debut surprisingly late in his career, Christian Gerhaher proved a wonderfully characterful Figaro. He brought a lieder singer's responsiveness to the detail of the role, the way Figaro's public and private personae flashed before our eyes (the delineation of the public and the private is one of the production's strengths), the intense seriousness the hints of the role's politics, the sense of great glee and sheer joy in his relationship with Joélle Harvey's Susanna.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Diana Montague, Maurizio Muraro - Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Diana Montague, Maurizio Muraro
Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Harvey was a poised and stylish Susanna, delightfully light voiced and very characterful. There was a lovely detail in her relationship with Christian Gerhaher's Figaro, and immense sympathy in her relationship with Kleiter's Countess, but were always aware of public and private, master and servant. The way she fined her voice right down for her Act Four serenade was completely magical.

Julia Kleiter is a lyric soprano moving into jugend-dramatisch roles (Eva in Wagner's Die Meistersinger and the Marschallin in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier) and she brought a nice depth of tone and flexibility to the countess' arias, there was a lightness of touch but moments of intensity too. This was a very serious and dignified Countess, strong in her relationship with Simon Keenlyside's Count, yet alive to moments of humour with Harvey's Susanna.

Simon Keenlyside's Count was something of a stickler, yet taking his own desires for granted, giving rise to anger when frustrated, rather than being a natural bully. There was something comic and sympathetic about the way his obsessiveness led him to be constantly frustrated.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Simon Keenlyside, Julia Kleiter - Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Simon Keenlyside, Julia Kleiter
Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Counter-tenor Kangmin Justin Kim brought a slim, elegant and lithe-toned voice to Cherubino (a role he has sung for Theater Heidelberg in Baden-Württemberg, Germany). His Cherubino was an engaging naif, yet having an adult man playing this teenager also re-focused the role somewhat, and there was a charmingly fey fecklessness to Kim's portrayal. I enjoyed the elegance of his performance, but sometimes wanted a greater expressive amplitude in the upper register.

As Barbarina, Yaritza Véliz sang her Act 4 aria expressively, but did not fully characterise the remainder of the role. The smaller roles were all strongly and characterfully taken. Maurizio Muraro was a pompous and self-important Bartolo who made his Act 1 aria fare more than just bluster, with Diana Montague as a warm and complex Marcellina with a spitfire temperament; the fight between her and Harvey's Susanna in Act 1 was a delight. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt was a stylish Don Basilio, a lovely comic performance. Jeremy White made the most of Antonio whilst Alasdair Elliott had the small but important role of Don Curzio. Rebecca Hardwick and Angharad Rowlands were the bashful bridesmaids in Act 3.

Continuo was provided by James Hendry (fortepiano) and Christopher Vanderspar (cello), and the recitatives zipped along with the requisite pace and drama.

Under Thomas Guthrie's lively eye the production is in fine health, with lots of crisp detail. I did wonder whether some of the humour has got a little broader, but one of the strengths of this production is that the background detail never pulls focus, you always know where the centre of attention is.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Royal Opera (C) ROH 2019 photo by Mark Douet
Mozart Le nozze di Figaro
Saturday 29 June 2019, Royal Opera House
Director: David McVicar
revival director: Thomas Guthrie
designer Tanya McCallin
lighting designer: Paule Constable
Movement director: Leah Hausman
Revival movement director: Angelo Smimmo
Figaro: Christian Gerhaher
Susanna: Joélle Harvey
Count Almaviva: Simon Keenlyside
Countess Almaviva: Julia Kleiter
Cherubino: Kangmin Justin Kim
Bartolo: Maurizio Muraro
Marcellina: Diana Montague
Don Basilio: Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Antonio: Jeremy White
Don Curzio: Alasdair Elliott
Barbarina: Yaritza Véliz
Bridesmaids: Rebecca Hardwick & Angharad Rowlands
Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner

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