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Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro


Count Almaviva – Peter Mattei

Countess Almaviva – Christine Oelze

Susanna – Heidi Grant Murphy

Figaro – Lorenzo Regazzo

Cherubino – Christine Schafer

Marcelina – Helene Schneiderman

Bartolo – Roland Bracht

Don Basilio – Burkhard Ulrich

Don Curzio – Eberhard Francesco Lorenz

Barbarina – Cassandre Berthon


Conductor – Sylvain Cambreling

Stage Director – Christoph Marthaler

Set & Costume Designer – Anne Viebrock

TV Director – Thomas Grimm

Lighting Designer – Olap Winter


Filmed at Palais Garnier, Paris – 2006 2 DVDs – 200 minutes


Opus Arte DVD OA 0960 D



I am delighted that this production, first seen at the 2001 Salzburg Festival, is available on DVD. It is a splendid example of the worst of modern practice – and will no doubt give rise to much enjoyment – for all the wrong reasons! To transfer Le nozze di Figaro from its natural setting in the eighteenth century to modern times is still considered by many to be nothing short of sacrilegious. To transfer it successfully requires a much surer vision than Christoph Marthaler brings to the project.


To begin with he is saddled with an appalling set. Anne Viebrock's single multi-purpose construction looks as though it has been designed with the sortof happy-go-lucky impracticality and disregard to detail that one normally associates with TV soaps (and her costumes also have a decided whiff of Melbourne-chic about them).


Centre backstage is a marriage bureau / registry office, which we can get a glimpse into. To the sides of the stage are positioned the display windows (except there isn't any glass) of boutiques for men's and women's wedding outfits. Sandwiched between are two doors ominously labelled “D” and “H” – lavatories? Thankfully not, apparently, as they lead mysteriously into the registry office. Balanced along the top is a long, narrow balcony. It is out of camera shot for most of the opera, so I am not at all clear as to its purpose, other than it has a row of farm animals positioned along it … perhaps a reference to Marcellina's song about the sheep and goats?


Filling the large space between all these is an ill-defined limbo. A row of coats hangs along the wall, and it contains three objects: a reclining armchair, a speaker's rostrum and a silly little set of double sided steps, over which the singers are paraded – 2-steps up, 2-steps down.


Amongst all this da Ponti's accustomed comedy with Cherubino's hiding places is discarded, and without a window to jump from, he escapes tamely through the door of the marriage bureau and Antonio is left with nothing to complain about. No new ideas of substance or coherence are introduced instead, just that endless back and forth, 2-steps up, 2-steps down. I had feared those “D” and “H” doors would form the two pavilions in the last act, but happily this proved unfounded as by that time the director seems to have abandoned any pretence of making use of the set, relying solely on darkened lighting to create a garden.


Conductor Sylvain Cambreling decides to get into the modernising act. During the much-revered overture he puts down his baton to take a few photographs, he tampers with Mozart's tempi ( Crudel! Perche finora starts off as a tango), and horror of all horrors, he replaces the harpsichord continuo with a “Recitativist” – a sort of vagrant musician who wanders about the stage employing a distinctly unconventional series of instruments. These include a synthesiser, a portable glass harmonica, even a couple of beer bottles that have been specially tuned to B and C (Barbarina and Cherubino – subtle…); iIf all else fails, he hums quietly. Much credit must go to Jurg Kienberger for carrying out this role with total proficiency.


This was always going to be a controversial production, it stirred up a real brouhaha on the first night and all audience noise is carefully suppressed on this recording until applause breaks out for Voi, che sapete. Nevertheless, there is some fine singing mixed in, struggling for attention.


Peter Mattei is outstanding as the Count, firm of voice and commanding of presence. Heidi Grant Murphy has all of Susanna's charm and sweetness of tone and Christine Schafer sings a stylish Cherubino (when she isn't distracted by having to work on her bubble gum). Only Christine Oelze (Countess) disappoints in a thinnish account of Dove sono, though she fares better with Porgi, amor . Both Don Basilio (Burkhard Ulrich) and Marcelina (Helene Schneiderman) get to sing their normally omitted Act 4 arias – she being required to encourage the audience to clap-along with the chorus, which they pointedly decline, but give her one of the evening's best rounds of applause at its end.


Serena Fenwick