Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Marriage of Figaro – Paris Opera, 2006 (Part 1: The Chair, the Stair, and the Lectern)

This Nozze di Figaro received such mixed (mostly bad) reviews I knew I just had to see it! I usually find Christoph Marthaler's viewpoint fascinating—but not always convincing. He often creates a lot of subsidiary action as a commentary to the main action. It’s something I enjoyed in his production of Věc Makropulos.

I really like the self-awareness of this production. We always know we’re watching an opera. The set is one basic piece—a marriage bureau/bridal shop. There’s an office across the back, behind glass, so you can see people coming and going. Bartolo, Curzio and Marcellina work there, though I’m not sure about everyone else. When the Countess is lamenting her lost love (Dove sono), poignantly, we see a couple getting married in the background. There are bridal and groomal (?) outfits on display at either side of the stage.

There’s a lectern stage right; various characters stand behind it when they are more or less addressing the audience. In Act 1, Bartolo sings La vendetta, and Figaro presents most of Se vuol ballare at the lectern, (pouring himself some water and consulting his note cards). It’s kind of an obvious point: when someone is standing there, he/she has something emphatic to say, but it works. The Countess even offers her Act 4 forgiveness from here. 

A very brief excerpt from the Act 4 Finale.

On stage left, there’s a small set of stairs, which might be for a bride to stand on while being fitted. Various characters walk up and down the steps, often for no discernible reason. Other times, it’s used as seating. 

The only other piece of furniture is a power reclining chair. Antonio makes an entrance with the chair while Cherubino and Susanna are tussling over the Countess’ ribbon (here a pair of pantyhose.) The action halts momentarily, as they watch him set up the chair. They restart the scene; he walks in again; they stop again. The third time they start the scene, they hesitate and look around to see if they're going to be interrupted again. It’s a funny, self-conscious, self-referential bit. 

The chair puzzled me at first. Then I thought about sitting in my Mom’s power recliner. If you are reclined and you cannot reach the controls, you are essentially helpless. The Count keeps getting Susanna in the chair; Susanna and the Countess get Cherubino there too. Whoever holds the remote has the “power.” Susanna ends up there again (with remote in hand) during the Act 4 Finale, and in the final tableaux (above) it's the Countess who's in control. 

More about this performance tomorrow. In the meantime, here is Christine Schäfer, one of the most convincing sopranos in pants (and eyeglasses) I have seen in a while:

Christine convinces as Cherubino.

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