Mozart opera in Vienna is a mixed bag

The Vienna State Opera's new production of "The Marriage of Figaro" is a treat for those who insist Mozart is all about the music. Not so for audience members looking for a bit of on-stage action.

The main problem? A seeming decision by director Jean-Louis Martinoty and stage designer Hans Schavernoch to bow to the genius of both Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte. It's as if Martinoty concluded that any creativity in the staging would be a distraction from the musical and verbal mastery of this fantastic operatic duo.

This classic comedy of errors — a lecherous count's attempts to seduce a servant foiled by her fiance and his wife — challenges any director to be creative in coming up with nimble changes in scenario to match the quickly shifting action. There was none of that in Monday's performance.

Instead, what we have is this: an irritating collection of themeless paintings, big and small, occasionally raised or dropped by the wiring they hang from to reveal a new scene or situation. That static stage means that — except for the period costumes — the evening resembled a concert performance.

The lack of verve was all the more surprising because in some ways this version was a revival, based strongly on a Martinoty production that premiered 13 years ago in Paris. Considered back then as one of the year's best new interpretations anywhere, the production has not aged well.

That left the music all the more important Monday — and here, there was little room for complaint.

Sylvia Schwartz was the star among a stellar cast. Vocally, visually and dramatically, she was the embodiment of the maid Susanna, who conspires with husband-to-be Figaro and others to foil the amorous Count Almaviva. The enjoyment level was high — and a toss-up between her comic abilities and her fluid and flexible voice.

Luca Pisaroni as Figaro was a close second with the only flaw an occasional bottoming out on the lower notes. It did not stop him from delivering a soulful "Non piu andrai farfollone amoroso" ("You are no longer an amorous butterfly)" as the page Cherubino prepares to bid adieu to his life of amorous pursuit to go off to the army.

Also good among a near perfectly cast troupe — Isabel Leonard as Cherubino, Erwin Schrott as the Count, Dorothea Roeschmann as the Countess, Donna Ellen as Marcellina, and Benjamin Bruns as Don Basilio.

Franz Welser-Moest complemented the singers from the pit, conducting an alternatively vigorous and sensitive Vienna State Opera orchestra from the first lilting notes of one of the genre's most famous overtures to the closing seconds of on-stage reconciliation.


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