BWW Reviews: 'Bravo!' FIGARO and Ivan Fischer's Budapest Festival Orchestra at Mostly Mozart

BWW Reviews: 'Bravo!' FIGARO and Ivan Fischer's Budapest Festival Orchestra at Mostly Mozart

From its earliest days, Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival has included opera among its offerings, although I recall no production being quite so acclaimed as Iván Fischer's DON GIOVANNI of two seasons ago. With so much to live up to, the director-conductor's vision of Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO had its work cut out for it, seen on August 13 at the Rose Theatre. More than a concert version but less than a fully staged production, this was a FIGARO that charmed the audience with some good singing and lively staging, but was somehow less than the sum of its parts.

Two different animals

It is sometimes hard to remember that Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO and Rossini's BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA are first-cousins, based on two parts of a saga by French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, because they are such different animals. FIGARO definitely has a serious streak--whether about class struggles and droit de seigneur or married life and the question of fidelity--but BARBIERE is decidedly a romp that keeps the same matters as no more than an undercurrent. And though Figaro gets title billing in both, he drives BARBIERE forward, while Mozart was more inclined to make him one of several equals in the opera.

A stellar Figaro

Still, FIGARO needs a stellar Figaro to work properly. Luckily, the role was put in the good hands (and the darkly handsome voice) of German bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann, whose casual demeanor belied his control of the action. Even though the voice of Romanian-American soprano Laura Tatulescu was a little small for the part-particularly in the dry acoustics of the Rose--she is an attractive performer who gave real life and style to the role.

The stunning Swedish soprano Miah Persson brought a silvery tone to "Dove sono," the Countess's second act aria and was suitably regal. There was a true sadness to her portrayal and it was a shock to hear her called "Rosina" and to realize, once again, that this unhappy noblewoman was the spunky ward of the Rossini work. The other two principals were disappointing. Even though Israeli mezzo Rachel Frenkel has an appealing voice, she displayed little charisma as Cherubino--a role that is all about animal magnetism. And the physically dominating Count of Roman Trekel was no more than that, for he seemed to have a mere shadow of a voice, which put some of the ensemble singing off balance.

Moving like clockwork

Filling out the cast were veteran Irish mezzo Ann Murray, who brought a more subtle, less harridan-like portrayal of Marcellina than one usually hears; British bass-baritone Andrew Shore, who gave a lively rendition of "La vendetta" as Bartolo; and the fresh-voiced French soprano Norma Nahoun as Barbarina, who made one glad that her aria, often deleted in the past, had been restored.

Despite his sitting off to the side as he conducted most of the opera, Fischer was clearly in charge of the proceedings. He conducted in an almost casual kind of way, but kept everything moved like clockwork, including some of his own interplay with the singers. The costume design of Gyorgyi Szakacs was central to Fischer's concept and it added greatly to the success of the antics on stage, as the singers started out in modern street clothes, but moved in and out of period costumes that descended as needed. (Clothes make the man/woman, indeed.) It gave the opera an air of being created on the spot--although we knew it was as well-tuned as the instruments of the orchestra.

Photo by Gordon Eszter

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.