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Such are the vagaries of an opera critic’s existence that I have seen performances of Mozart’s masterpiece twice within a week: first in Salzburg, where Sven-Eric Bechtolf has framed it in a Downton Abbey-ish context, and in Edinburgh, where this semi-staged version is overseen by one of the great conductors of our time, Ivan Fischer. (Rupert Christiansen/The Telegraph)

Both performances had their merits, but disappointingly neither seemed inclined to take the comedy seriously – there was never any sense of real feelings at stake or a tale that deals in the complexities of anger, depression and remorse.

Salzburg opted for amiable rough-and-tumble and four spectacular sets designed by Alex Eales; Edinburgh went further by turning the show into a black-draped harlequinade conjured out of a dressing-up box and laden with gratuitous business, focused on powdered wigs and shells of costume dangled from on high.

The majority of the audience clearly loved the cartoon farce, but I felt the spirit of the work had been betrayed. Too many laughs came from pratfall gags and slightly mis-timed surtitles rather than the music’s supreme wit: the effect was tasteless.

In the midst of it all stood or sat Fischer, willing victim of various indignities inflicted on him by larky characters passing by. Yet nothing could mar the marvellous, mercurial airiness of his conducting – gossamer-light in texture, spry in its dynamics – or the effortlessly vivacious playing of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. The production may have been heavy-handed, but every phrase of the music floated. (Salzburg’s Vienna Philharmonic under Dan Ettinger seemed plodding in comparison.)

Edinburgh’s cast seemed mismatched, and so rough was the blend of voices that the ensembles often sounded almost raucous: this was not a point in Edinburgh’s favour.

Individually, there were strengths: Rachel Frenkel was a clean-cut Cherubino, Marie McLaughlin a vivid Marcellina, and Markus Werba a lightweight Almaviva. Sylvia Schwartz was a heavily pregnant Susanna, resinous in tone, short on sparkle.

The strongest elements were Miah Persson, previously an enchanting Susanna, here a finely poised, silver-faced Countess, and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, whose Figaro radiated a nicely Tiggerish combination of the gormless and bumptious.

But all of them need a richer, darker context in which to make the Almaviva household seem fully human and emotionally engaging. This was a Figaro without heart.

The original article is available here.