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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Opera Review: Off the Rack

The Budapest Festival Orchestra presents Le Nozze di Figaro.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Iván Fischer (lower right) supervises the good-natured insanity in Act II of
Le Nozze di Figaro at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2013 Richard Termine.
One of the most eagerly anticipated events of this year's Mostly Mozart Festival is the return of conductor-director Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Mr. Fischer, who mounted a superb Don Giovanni two years ago) have returned to Lincoln Center with a new production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, seen Tuesday night at the Rose Theater.

Mr. Fischer (who conducts and also directed the show) calls his approach to opera "concert staging." The sets are minimal, some steps, ramps and an elevated disc. The orchestra (incorporating "natural" horns and slide trumpets) is onstage, below the disc, and are sometimes part of the action along with Mr. Fischer. The visual focus is on costumes (by Györgyi Szakács) ranging from modern concert attire to 18th century formal to black monk's cowls for Act IV. A series of quick changes onstage in the Overture ended with everything thrown onto two Garment District racks, setting the scene for the hi-jinks to come.

The most elaborate outfits in the show hang high above the action on dress-maker's forms. These lower into place for key moments. A crew of choristers slap wigs and outfits on the characters as needed. (Sometimes, the spare perukes wind up on the orchestra members or on Mr. Fischer's own bald pate.) The stage direction is witty and bustling, producing a lot of theatrical energy and keeping Da Ponte's characters in a constant state of flux.

The cast's vitality matches that of the production, with most of the singers making their Festival debuts. Hanno Müller-Brachmann is warm and resonant in the title role, with a bustling good humor that suits this barber-turned valet. His opposite number is the lanky, imposing baritone Roman Trenkel, who looks like an NBA star who has suddenly embarked on an operatic career. Mr. Trenkel uses the dark colours of his voice to good effect, playing the Count as a would-be-Don Giovanni who is stuck in the web of domesticity.

Figaro's beloved Susanna is the longest and most complex part in this opera. Laura Tatulescu dove into it from the start, putting herself at the center of the action. Although her voice is not the prettiest, her performance was saved by a keen comic instinct that occasionally erupted into flashes of anger. Her chemistry with the handsome Mr. Müller-Brachmann was perfect. Soprano Miah Persson was a young Countess with a raw nerve and beautiful tone in "Porgi amor" and "Dove sono." The Act III "Letter Duet" was a highlight of this performance.

As Cherubino, the cross-dressing pageboy who spends most of the opera eluding the Count's attempts to send him off to war, mezzo Rachel Frenkel made a tremendous New York debut. From the "set" arias ("Non si piu, cosa son, cosa faccio", "Voi che sapete") to the comic pieces Ms. Frenkel was in perpetual motion in a tremendous performance that never slowed down. She was paired with the pert, pretty Barbarina of Norma Nahoun, a young singer who showed tremendous promise in this small part.

Andrew Shore and Ann Murray are both comic mainstays in Mozart, though their voices are aging. Their Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina weren't pretty, but the dramatic experience of these singers carried the day, especially in the big Act III sextet when Figaro learns that these two plotters are in fact his parents. ("Little Rafaello!" was perfectly delivered.) Rodolphe Briand, a tenor making his U.S. debut was very funny in the twin roles of Don Basilio and Don Curzio, making one wish his little Act IV aria was left in. Matteo Peirone was a bluff presence in the small role of Antonio.

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