Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro in Copenhagen
A New Twist to an Old Favorite
By Dr. Irving Spitz
New Copenhagen Opera House
The screaming headlines blazoned on the stage curtain made it clear that this would not be just another routine Marriage of Figaro. The count in a new scandal: I shall never sleep with staff again. She wants him, but he’s her son! Exclusive pictures: Is the countess losing weight again? This was the introduction to this entertaining and witty production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.
Operatic productions in contemporary settings are not uniformly successful. They often distort the composer’s intentions and may be downright dull and boring. Some of the best include Jonathan Miller’s 1982 production of Rigoletto set in Little Italy in New York, Peter Sellars' Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy also from the 80’s and Willy Decker’s La Traviata at the 2005 Salzburg Festival. This co-production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, by the Copenhagen Opera with Vienna’s Theater an der Wien by director Kasper Bech Holten joins this worthy pantheon.
The set, designed by Steffen Aarfing, was dominated by a large tree with an extended branch upon which the various characters could view the proceedings. The modern costumes, together with mobile phones, digital cameras and iPods were by designer, Marie ì Dali. Don Bartolo, strutting to and fro with cigar and dark glasses, cut a real Mafioso character and Count Almaviva sported tattoos. Cherubino presented her aria Voi che sapete (Tell me fair ladies) to the countess on a CD and signed it. After being discovered by the Count with Suzanna, Cherubino was banished not to the count’s army but to the Dynamo Kiev soccer team. Usually, Barbarina, has a minor part of the performance. Here she was ever present, love struck, photographing her heart throb, Cherubino, with her Nikon digital zoom camera at every opportunity. The chorus posed as journalists and paparazzi photographers. At the conclusion, all is made up, or is it? The curtain fell as the Count looked wistfully at Suzanna, betraying his true feelings.
The Marriage of Figaro is an ensemble opera. This was very evident here and equal emphasis was given to all the leading singers. In many productions, Marcellina's and Basilio's arias in Act 4 are often cut. Here, both were included. The singing was solid and principal roles were sung by resident Scandinavian singers from the company. Guest soloist, baritone Johannes Mannov born in Copenhagen has a major international career, took on the role of Figaro which he sang to perfection. Taking over the demanding role of the Countess at short notice, was Norwegian soprano Kari Postma. She is a fine singer and consummate actress. She took time to warm up and was a little uncertain in her opening aria, Porgi amor (God of love) but her Dove sono (I remember the days long departed) in Act 3 was splendid.
The Royal Danish Orchestra is one of the oldest in the world, reaching back to 1448. It was ably conducted by Graeme Jenkins who propelled the score forward giving ample support to the soloists. All this added up to a most enjoyable evening of entertainment.
This performance of Figaro took place at the Kongens Nytorv, the old stage opera house which has acoustics which are warm and inviting. Recently, a new national opera house of Denmark, among the most modern in the world was built. It is located on an island in the center of Copenhagen and was inaugurated in 2005. Many new opera houses leave one cold. Not this one. Designed by Henning Larsen and engineers Ramboll and Buro Happold it is a stunning architectural triumph and possesses brilliant and sharp acoustics. The Opera House was donated to the Danish state by the industrialist A.P. Møller.
The modern staging of Puccini’s Tosca was the joint creation of director Peter Langdal and set designer Karin Betz. Lighting designer Jesper Kongshaug put on very imaginative effects which added to the melodrama. The title role was taken by soprano, Gitta-Maria Sjöberg. The villain Scarpia, was performed by bass-baritone, Per Høyer who succeeded in bringing out his malevolent and arrogant character. Most impressive, however, was American tenor Evan Bowers as the ill fated painter Cavaradossi. The chief conductor of the National Danish Opera, Giordano Bellincampi, led the Royal Danish Orchestra and the Royal Danish Opera Chorus
These innovative and stimulating productions indicate that opera in Copenhagen is alive and thriving. Even more encouraging was the large number of young people in the audience, especially for the Figaro. This is certainly not the usual pattern one encounters in the US or central Europe. The future of opera lies with the youth and this gives one much hope.