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La Journée soporifique

Teatro Regio
06/26/2018 -  & June 29, July 3*, 6, 2018
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
Simone Alberghini (Il conte d’Almaviva), Serena Farnocchia (La contessa d’Almaviva), Paolo Bordogna (Figaro), Maria Grazia Sciavo (Susanna), Paola Gardina (Cherubino), Manuela Custer (Marcellina), Fabrizio Beggi (Bartolo), Saverio Fiore (Basilio), Joshua Sanders (Don Curzio), Giuseppe Esposito (Antonio), Mariasole Mainini (Barbarina), Manuela Giacomini/Caterina Borruso, Claudia De Pian/Daniela Valdenassi (Due contadine)
Coro del Teatro Regio, Andrea Secchi (Chorus Master), Jeong Un Kim (Pianoforte), Orchestra del Teatro Regio, Speranza Scappucci (Conductor)
Elena Barbalich (Staging), Tommaso Lagattolla (Sets & costumes), Andrea Anfossi (Lighting)

(© Ramella & Giannese/Edoardo Piva)

It’s hard to believe this production of Le nozze di Figaro is part of the trilogy that includes Michele Placido’s excellent Don Giovanni and Ettore Scola’s superlative Così fan tutte, for this Nozze is characterized by miscast singers, heavy-handed conducting and, most disturbing, non-existent stage direction.

Elena Barbalich presents the opera in a conventional fashion, which is fine, but there is no insight. The only attempt at some kind of vision was to show Cherubino, some soldiers and a number of peasants wave the French tricolore flag while Figaro sang “Non più andrai” at the end of the first act, and the peasants coming to pay homage to the Count audaciously take over his dining room after the Fandango at the end of the third act. These supposedly “revolutionary” acts are a reference to French playwright Beaumarchais, on whose La Folle Journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro, the opera is based. His restive servant-master portrayal augured the French Revolution. Barbalich doesn’t seem to believe Da Ponte’s exquisite libretto and Mozart’s sublime music are sufficient to hold the audience’s attention. She chose to show children, supposedly the Count and Countess Almaviva’s offspring, playing, while the singers perform the most intimate passages such as the Countess Almaviva’s “Porgi, amor”. Even more irritating was the endless parade of servants throughout the opera, rearranging the furniture during the opera’s most intense moments, from the Countess’ “Dove sono?” to the Count’s “Hai già vinto la causa” in the third act.

Of the thirteen characters in the opera, only two minor ones (Marcellina and Barbarina) were ideally cast, though Don Bartolo, Don Curzio and the gardener Antonio were fine too. The five major roles were miscast to varying degrees. Serena Farnocchia, an amazing lirico spinto who excels in Verdi, Puccini and verismo roles, was the Countess. Her voice is rich and powerful but isn’t Mozartian. For the Countess, a purer lyric voice with much less vibrato is needed. As a true professional endowed with a generous voice, Farnocchia still managed to convincingly portray a maudlin Countess, and to sing her music expressively.

Maria Grazia Schiavo’s Susanna was more problematic: she’s unfortunately a tired lyric soprano with a substantial vibrato instead of a light lyric soubrette. However, she compensated with great stage presence and agile movement on stage portraying a credible Susanna. Less convincing was Paola Gardina as Cherubino. Her timbre is beautiful but ill-suited for the petulant adolescent. It is too feminine and mature a voice, which would be great as Werther’s Charlotte. Like Schiavo, she had good stage presence and acted well. Her “Voi che sapete” was better than than her “Non so più”, in part due to the conductor’s slow tempo in the latter.

Figaro and Count Almaviva were sung by Paolo Bordogna and Simone Alberghini respectively. Both have good voices and are good actors, but the former has a lower voice than the latter, so it lacked cohesion. It would have been more convincing to have a more authoritarian Count and an agile Figaro. But Alberghini had excellent stage presence and posture worthy of a nobleman. Unfortunately, the conductor took an extremely slow tempo for “Se vuol ballare” that made Bordogna’s pleasant voice sound ugly towards the end of the aria. This elephantine tempo was perhaps to suit the ill-rehearsed children and their clumsy “choreography,” emulating Figaro and the Count duelling. Saverio Fiore mistook his minor character role of Basilio for a major one, singing in a sturdy full-blown tenor ill-suited for the usually elderly scheming man. Mariasole Mainini sang Barbarina’s “L’ho perduta” so beautifully that one wished the role were more significant or that she’d played Susanna.

Somehow, and despite bleak expectations, the fourth act was the most successful. Usually this is the hardest act to pull off, due to the lack of credibility in the disguises of Susanna, becoming the Contessa, and vice versa, but most of all, the challenges of act four involve the difficulty in placing the two furtive couples on stage. Here, for a change, Barbalich’s endless parading of palace servants was effective. Several servants impersonated garden statues, holding chandeliers, most of which were extinguished at Susanna’s command, creating an eerie atmosphere that made the nocturnal trysts credible.

As stated previously, Beaumarchais’s original play is La Folle Journée; all four acts take place in one crazy frantic day. In successful productions of Figaro, one is supposed to feel that frenzy. Cherubino is almost caught in the Countess’s boudoir but escapes by jumping from the window. Figaro is to marry the spinster Marcellina (“O pagarla, o sposarla”) but it is revealed he is her long-lost illegitimate son. The Count is supposed to have a gallant meeting with Susanna in the palace’s garden, and instead makes love to the disguised Countess. For these intrigues to work, an insightful staging is essential. For a sense of unpredictable madness to take hold, astute conducting is required, rather than conductor Speranza Scappucci’s misguided use of accelerandi at each act’s finale. Sadly, this was not la folle journée but la journée soporifique.

Ossama el Naggar



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