The women rule in COC's Nozze di FigaroReview
Claus Guth’s Nozze di Figaro is back at the Canadian Opera Company, and the little winged #$@! disturber is back at his old antics.
This 2011 production, originally for the Salzburg Festival, revels in psychoanalyzing the characters in Mozart’s well-loved opera. The psychoanalysis even gets personified in this production: actor Uli Kirsch as Cherubim, the silent addition Guth added that suggests that the plights of Susanna, Figaro, the Count, the Countess, and Cherubino, are pre-destined.
Everything is a symbol in this production, from Cherubim juggling apples (temptation!) to the endless locked doors (locked hearts!) to the dead bird carcass in the foyer (failed seductions?) – even their house is clearly one where rich people live, but it’s dirty and neglected, like the Count and Countess’ marriage.
The symbols are neat, and if you’re familiar with Le nozze di Figaro, Guth’s production makes you re-think moments in a show that’s so well loved. But I think that’s my gripe with this production: it’s meant for people who already know the opera. For those kinds of people, it’s not really a problem that when Figaro is measuring the square footage of his bedroom, he’s not actually in his bedroom. It’s not a problem that no one is sitting under the pines during that whole scene where they’re talking about meeting under the pines. Or that when the Countess suggests Susanna accompany Cherubino for his new song, she’s speaking metaphorically.
Like, I can handle some dramatic symbolism, some commentary on a piece that has enormous wisdom in it; I suppose it’s because all the neat little ideas – Cherubim rides a unicycle! Susanna is obsessed with the Countess’ fur coat! Figaro keeps leaping into an open pit in the floor! – don’t ever add up to something that’s more profound than what Mozart and Da Ponte gave us.
The singing though – chef’s kiss. For me, the utter standouts were Andrea Carroll as Susanna, and Lauren Fagan as the Countess. Fagan delivered moments of actual operatic perfection; her “Porgi amor” was textbook and spilling over with colour, and her “Dove sono” had me rooted to my seat. And Carroll was a stunning Susanna, all whip-smart and funny and, in this production, a completely desirable woman. I loved how she acted the sub-story of Susanna and the Count – an illicit tryst that she doesn’t entirely regret – and it added a gorgeous extra layer of tension. Also, Carroll’s “Deh vieni, non tardar” was the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard. in. my. life.
Emily Fons was Cherubino incarnate; each time I hear her, Fons’ voice gets warmer and richer, yet still she has the youth and sparkle that we want out of the insufferable teen boy. She was particularly adorable with Mireille Asselin as Barbarina; you can’t really get much bubblier than bouncing curled pigtails, and Asselin creates her own show-stopping moment with her arietta in the last act.
I think it’s the casting of Gordon Bintner as the Count that laid out the most interesting psychology of the show. Next to Luca Pisaroni as Figaro – a gorgeous one at that, with a round, house-filling sound and fab comic timing – Bintner’s Count seemed entirely out of control. We seem to meet him mid-breakdown, where he’s having secret make-outs with Susanna behind his wife’s back, but also losing his mind over his wife possibly having an affair, and also playing whack-a-mole with his insubordinate servants, and also having a substance abuse problem. When Bintner sing’s the Count’s famed third-act aria, he does it with great snarl, and also with Cherubim literally sitting on his shoulders. That’s the weight of guilt and lust and jealousy right there, Guth says with a heavy hand. Bintner deserves all the applause for pulling off fast triplets while balancing a grown, winged man.
It’s a bit of a long-haul evening, but there is time well spent on the small roles in this Nozze. Megan Latham and Robert Pomakov are hilariously doddering as the aged Marcellina and Bartolo; Michael Colvin is a delightfully sinister Don Basilio; Doug MacNaughton’s Antonio is blustering and OCD; and Jacques Arsenault’s Don Curzio is wonderfully shrill and very Uncle Fester.
My takeaway: the COC’s Nozze boasts world-class singing, and will pique fresh curiosity about this operatic staple. If you’re new to Nozze, let yourself go along for the ride, and remember that even opera buffs still get confused by the plot.