Guth Ideas to save Figaro

The Canadian Opera Company have revived Claus Guth‘s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro that they presented to us in 2016, this time with a slightly different cast and conductor.

The three and a half hours fly by on the wings of birds, cherubs and assorted eye candy, quirky moments in the production to keep you amused and wide awake. Full disclosure. Much as I love the music in the last act I’m yawning & may desperately want it to be over.

Not this time. The headline may offend those who think of the opera as flawless, but it’s also very long. Guth’s combination of sex, violence and beautiful images kept me alert. And the audience ate it up, giving the production a huge ovation at the end.

As expected Conductor Harry Bicket is a key contributor, leading the orchestra in a wonderful authentic reading at a terrific pace and very tight with the singers throughout. While Mozart is well-served, the music is always at the service of the comedy.

Whether it’s me or the production that feels different this time, I love it. Last time the small parts stole the show while the leads were adequate but a tad too serious rather than spectacular. This time the leads are especially good, taking us back to the realm of genuine comedy. And thank God for that.

Last time I remarked on Emily Fons (Cherubino), Robert Pomakov (Dr Bartolo) Doug MacNaughton (Antonio) and Sasha Djihanian (Barbarina). Except for the Barbarina (now brilliantly played by Mireille Asselin) they’re all back and as excellent as before.

What’s new is the star-power of the leads, both vocally but especially dramatically. Gordon Bintner brings that remarkable voice of his –lovely tone and precise intonation—and matches it with a stage persona to contrast his last appearance. Where he was a sweetly lovable & vulnerable Papageno, his Count is scary in the amount of violence he channels, a terrific bullying presence that amplifies everything implicit in the text, never holding anything back. Usually when the Count asks to be forgiven at the end it’s a touching moment, not an instant of laughter from an audience who don’t believe he can be trusted. Is that a symptom of modern audiences who no longer want or believe in the happy ending? I’m looking forward to seeing what Bintner sings next, a star in the making.

(l-r) Uli Kirsch as Cherubim (sic) and Luca Pisaroni as Figaro (photo: Michael Cooper)

The other big upgrade was with Luca Pisaroni’s Figaro and especially Andrea Carroll’s Susanna. The chemistry between these two, particularly in the last act, is a highlight of the show. Carroll is another note-perfect singer like Bintner, her “Deh vieni non tardar” a heart-breakingly beautiful moment in the last act, a stunning answer to Pisaroni’s “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi,” when he tells us (the men in the audience) not to trust women, and don’t discuss the rest (complete with horn-calls for the cuckold). What a joy that two of my favorite pieces were done so perfectly, and vividly dramatized.

They sing it well, but they especially connect to one another. Last time I feel that the Figaro (Josef Wagner) and Susanna (Jane Archibald) were obedient to the darkest colours of the director’s vision, taking us away from anything really comic. This time that underlying and undeniable romance is back. I find that whenever we have a Director’s Theatre production, its original stridency fades under the mitigating influence of a revival director (Marcelo Buscaino this time) or simply the natural inertia from centuries of doing the text as written. But I’m not complaining. I like seeing a Figaro and a Susanna who seem to really love one another. There’s a mischief to their chemistry.

Lauren Fagan is a good Countess, although last time we had Erin Wall who was wonderful as well. But the chemistry between Fagan and Bintner is riveting, extraordinary.

(l-r) Countess (Lauren Fagan), Cherubino (Emily Fons) and Susanna (Andrea Carroll) photo: Michael Cooper

And the scene between Fagan and Caroll in the second act with Fons is enormously fun, turned on its head when Bintner comes storming back and terrifies everyone.

Countess (Lauren Fagan) and Count (Gordon Bintner) photo: Michael Cooper

While I think this was all there in the production last time, it never quite gelled as well as what we saw this time.

Reconciliation between Count (Gordon Bintner) and Countess (Lauren Fagan) Photo: Michael Cooper

I suppose I should mention Uli Kirsch in the silent role listed in the program as “cherubim”, which is problematic when we remember that this is the plural of the word “cherub”. But I recall that when I’m a stickler I lose my sense of humour, so I’ll ignore this in the spirit of the show. He’s well-liked by the audience regardless of his name, indeed much more so than last time. I think it’s the best indicator that the production is working, that he now feels like an organic part of the show, a bit of eye-candy, helping to keep us alert & awake. Or is it simply that I’ve lightened up? Either way, it’s a good show.

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing it again. You should too.

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