Opera of the Week: Marriage of Figaro from a woman’s point of view

Opera of the Week: Marriage of Figaro from a woman’s point of view


norman lebrecht

January 20, 2022

Slippedisc, courtesy of OperaVision, brings you the live stream from Staatsoper Hannover of the first night of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Hannover Staatsoper was Oper magazine’s 2020 ‘Opera house of the year’.

Mozart’s great comic opera is a tale of intrigue, misunderstanding and forgiveness. Director Lydia Steier teases out the touching melancholy of the characters with the mixture of opulence and black humour.

She says: ‘We start the piece with the finale – with everyone standing around in pairs and happy and harmonious and it all worked out. And then when we see that again at the end of the piece, then we see how hollow and real almost hopelessly sad this ending is that people came together against their will.’

Conducted by Giulio Cilona. the production stars Germán Olvera as Count Almviva, Kiandra Howarth as Countess Almviva, Sarah Brady as Susanna, Richard Walshe as Figaro and Nina van Essen as Cherubino.

The Plot:  A count has designs on his personal valet’s fiancée and is determined to stop their wedding taking place. Meanwhile, the countess tries to regain her husband’s love by any means necessary.

Available from Thursday 20th January 2022 at 19.30 CET, 18.30 London, 13.30 NY


  • John Borstlap says:

    ‘We start the piece with the finale – with everyone standing around in pairs and happy and harmonious and it all worked out. And then when we see that again at the end of the piece, then we see how hollow and real almost hopelessly sad this ending is that people came together against their will.’

    This is pure, undiluted nonsense – again the Regietheater-Idee that the plot and its meaning has to be changed to make the work ‘more contemporary’ or ‘better understood for contemporary audiences’.

    Marcel Duchamp painted a moustache on a copy of the Mona Lisa and added an obscene reference to the painting. But it has not replaced the original in the Louvre. Regieoper interpretations however, get presented in official state-supported opera houses.

    • MJA says:

      No, JB – it’s your post that’s nonsense. There’s nothing in what Lydia Steier says that suggests she’s changed the plot, only that she’s used the resources of staging to illustrate an aspect of the drama and make a valid theatrical comment on the text. Isn’t that her job as stage director? This is just another example from the mountain of nonsense regularly written about “regietheater”, much of which seems to come from people who don’t want to be challenged by sophisticated staging and who’d probably rather their opera wasn’t encumbered by drama at all, or the attendant inconvenience of having to be staged. I’m not saying there isn’t sometimes a case to answer with productions that are gimmicky or don’t work or are just bad, but for my part, I want to find as much interest on stage as from the pit.

      • John Borstlap says:

        No, MJA – that is all wrong.

        “….. and make a valid theatrical comment on the text. Isn’t that her job as stage director?”

        Obviously, a stage director has to realize plot and text (these are not exactly the same), but NOT making ‘a valid comment on the text’. Why not? Because audiences are supposed to experience the WORK and not the personal comments on a given text by a stage director. The idea that the stage director should have a ‘vision’ and a ‘concept’ which is to be inserted into the realisation of the work, is a nonsensical one, it is a postwar misunderstanding of what the authenticity of a work means.

        There is the plot, expressed in the text and the music. The music is more or less fixed in a score. The text is entirely fixed in the libretto. But the way in which the visualisation has to be realised, cannot be fixed in the way text and music are fixed. Thus, it is the task of the stage director (and the prop designer and costumier) to realize the visuals in a way which is as close as possible loyal to the character of the work. This still leaves much space to freedom and invention, but for the typical Regietheaterdirektor that is not enough to get his ego across. The director can highlight this or that aspect, but always within the limitations of the authenticity of the work itself.

        It is primitive and ignorant ego trippery, damaging the work.

  • Kenny says:

    You know, at first I thought, “There goes the [artificial?] ‘lieto fine…,’ but then remembered “La mère coupable” so I guess there really wasn’t one. Back to Beaumarchais to see how ambiguous the original was. Mozart’s music there surely radiates happiness, unlike say the end of Così and Don Giovanni. Or maybe they’re all different doses of cynical and I’m just naïve. At least it’s food for thought….

    • John Borstlap says:

      No, the finale of Figaro is NOT fake, the point is that even after truly unpleasant interaction, resolution and forgiveness is possible. There is no serious scoundrel in the plot, only weakness and egoism, and they can be resolved.

  • RW2013 says:

    “Das Nachspiel wird Vorspiel…”

  • ConnieW says:

    “Contessa, perdono” is my favourite 30sec of opera. I have no doubt that the count means what he says, in this moment. I have also no doubt that his resolution will last a nanosecond as soon as he sees the next pretty girl. Cherubino goes from being madly in love with the countess to marrying Barbarina in less than a day, because that is better than being banished to the army and maybe she needs a husband, considering she was visited by two men the night before. One does not need to know that Beaumarchais wrote a follow up play where the countess has an illegitimate child with Cherubino and the count has continued his philandering, there are already clues in the marriage of figaro. Seems to me that this new staging just emphasises what is already there. You could ask whether it needs to be so on the nose, but then if so many people miss the clues…?

    • Ms.Melody says:

      The biggest insult to the paying opera goer is to imply that the average person is too stupid to “get it”. Therefore, let’s get rid of anything remotely subtle.
      Cherubino masturbates in profile, but for those who didn’t get it, the full frontal view is also available.
      And what’s with a 3 minute sob from the count at the end?
      We get it, he is sorry now and will do it again soon. The new staging invents and emphasizes precisely what is not there and never was.

  • Kathleen E King says:

    Sorry, no body has to make Mozart “more relevant”! Mozart, as with Shakespeare, is genius and speaks to everyone and all time. All these second rate egoists who think they can “improve” on Mozrt only demonstrate their own lack of creativity and the paucity of their art.

  • DH says:

    I thought that this would have made a nice radio broadcast, perhaps starting with the overture, and with the chorus able to see the conductor.

  • Ms.Melody says:

    I actually watched this unholy mess from start(The finale) to finish. There is not enough space here for a full review, so just a few points.
    To answer MJA, yes, the plot is changed in a sense that characters are changed beyond recognition. Figaro is a spineless wimp, dominated by Susanna, Contessa is a hideous, psychotic alcoholic nymphomaniac who mounts and fondles willing Cherubino and makes a pass at Susanna. There is nothing noble or sympathetic about this woman. Anyone who finds her attractive is in dire need of psychiatric help. Count is a tormented man madly in love with Susanna, sentiment she clearly returns in full. Count is, apparently, capable of deep emotion. Who would have thunk?
    And then, there is obligatory simulated sex, masturbation and oral sex all to MOZART’S SUBLIME MUSIC. Boring!!! Has been done before by the likes of Alden, Kosky and company
    Every aria is accompanied by some insane action, ruinous and distructing. There are shrieks during ensembles. Nothing is done in private, there are extras on stage milling about and, at least to me, most annoying. And did I mention the two trans nuns that are praying for the Countess and bring her oxygen during her panic attacks?
    The costumes are a pretence to period.
    Women, except for the Countess are in black dresses with ugly skull caps. Heavily pregnant Barbarina(?by whom?) blows bubble gum at one point. Supposed to be cute or emphasize indifference?
    Count gets beaten to a bloody pulp in the last act and Susanna sings her gorgeous Ah vieni, non tardar to him! Maybe the director got her operas mixed up and she thought she was directing Don Giovanni and Susanna was really Zerlina and the Count really, Masetto?
    Oh, and the finale. Susanna does not want to be with Figaro. He holds her by force. Count is forced to apologize to the Countess and you should see her facial expressions! Count and Susanna clearly want to be together, turning them into some star-crossed lovers. Figaro is looking at the Countess and the Countess is briefly, but meaningfully, joins hands with Cherubino(well, at least this has foundation in the original).
    All this would be secondary is musical standards were upheld, but ,alas, singing is uneven and mostly, especially for men is second or third rate. Chorus is simply terrible. The pianist in the interludes was excellent , though.
    All in all, a very boring production, with lots of gimmicks and an abortive attempt to interpret and improve Mozart and da Ponte. In my opinion, Ms.Steier does not succeed.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Thank you for that detailed review. I’ll pass on viewing this. I believe regietheater does make you think . . . most of it makes you wonder why you spent your hard earned money to watch such drivel.

    • Brian Hall says:

      I applaud you for your astute observations and opinions. Only the scenery moving about instead of the characters intrigued me. I am a stage director. Never staged Marriage but also never dreamed of imposing so much irrelevance on any work.