If you measure the merit of a production in audience laughter, the conductor Iván Fischer’s eccentric concert staging of Le nozze di Figaro is a delirious success. The jokes are 229 years old, yet we still laugh when the Count finds Cherubino in Susanna’s bedroom. We still gasp when Susanna slaps Figaro, believing him to have betrayed her. And we still blink back a tear when the Countess forgives her tomcat husband at the end of this “folle journée” of erotic promise and incipient revolution. (Anna Picard/The Times)
With the Budapest Festival Orchestra grouped into four choirs around a raised circular stage, and a variety of 18th-century costumes hanging on clothes racks and suspended from the flies, Mozart’s overture begins as an urgent whisper. Cast members spring up from the ranks of the orchestra, undress and change clothes. There are singers dressed as players, men dressed as women, women dressed as men.
A French tricolore briefly flutters in the background. A mannequin is neatly decapitated. A flamenco dancer beats a tart tattoo with her heels in the wedding dances, and when night falls in Act IV, the darkened stage is thick with kissing lovers. The ideas are good but the execution is often chaotic. This is a Figaro fuelled by the personal charm of its conductor and director, not by his ramshackle stagecraft.
As a conductor Fischer is beyond reproach. His is a warm, volatile reading of the score, with succulent colours from the woodwind and sharp details from the strings, despite compromised sightlines. There’s charm and chutzpah from Rachel Frenkel (Cherubino) and Marie McLaughlin (Marcellina). Though Hanno Müller-Brachmann’s brandy-and-cigars bass is two sizes too big for Figaro, Sylvia Schwarz’s finely focused Susanna and Miah Persson’s text-sensitive Countess are beautifully balanced. Markus Werba is an attractive Count, and Norma Nahoun almost steals the show as Barbarina.