Opera. Our new Artistic Director for Opera/Drama, Stephen Langridge, opens the season with Mozart's ever-fresh opera.
One hot, crazy day in Spain..
"A sparkling anthem to humanity, empathy and love." Svenska Dagbladet
”Sofie Asplund's charismatic Susanna must be her great breakthrough role.” DN
”Sofie Asplund's magical contribution is essential.” Göteborgs-Posten
"...the whole production can be summarised by one word: elegance." Sveriges Radio
Watch a film clip from Le Nozze di Figaro
Cast from team 1
The class conflicts and revolutionary thoughts that permeate this work remain in Andalusia, but in Langridge's interpretation, they have been transposed to the Franco era. George Souglides' brilliant set design allows us to see all of the side-plots interpreted, right out in the open.
In the glittering cast, among others, is Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans as the Count. He was recently awarded the prestigious Prix d’Amis 2013 for his interpretation of Papageno. Swedish soprano Malin Hartelius finally joins us as the Countess. She has spent virtually her whole career abroad on the stages of the major opera houses. Anna Grevelius (Cherubino) is also a very rare guest in Sweden after several years of spending her career in other countries such as the UK. Susanna, on the other hand, interpreted by Ida Falk Winland, will be a familiar face to the Gothenburg audience.
Most of the principal roles are taken by two teams, each with its own conductor. So there is every reason to see this production more than once and experience two very different interpretations of Mozart’s masterpiece.
The two teams:
|13 Sep-18 Oct||31 Oct-26 Nov|
|Conductor||Jane Glover||Patrik Ringborg|
|Count Almaviva||Thomas Oliemans (except 21 Sep)||Åke Zetterström (incl. 21 Sep)|
|Susanna||Ida Falk Winland||Sofie Asplund|
|Figaro||Markus Schwartz||Daniel Hällström|
|Cherubino||Anna Grevelius||Ann-Kristin Jones|
Rehearsals with the new soloist team
An interview with Stephen Langridge
Mozart's mature masterpiece
One of the foremost collaborations in the history of opera came about when Mozart started working together with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte – they complemented each other perfectly. It started with Le Nozze di Figaro, based on Beaumarchais' play, first performed in 1786 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. The subject was a bold choice, given that the drama, with its revolutionary tendencies, had aroused quite some commotion during its first performance only two years previously in Paris. da Ponte, however, has significantly toned down such elements in his libretto, and instead emphasises human relations and qualities much more than the social criticism. Besides the fact that they would have risked being subjected to the Viennese censors, the human psyche fascinated Mozart much more than social criticism. As an example, the episode when Beaumarchais has Figaro say to the Count that he just "put himself to the trouble of being born – nothing more", is completely removed in da Ponte's opera text.
Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro is a vertiginous study of human weaknesses and shortcomings, but also of courage, joy and a love that beats everything else.
The story in Le Nozze di Figaro is a sequel to Beaumarchais' more conventional comedy The Barber of Seville, where Figaro has helped Count Almaviva marry Rosina before the very eyes of her guardian Doctor Bartolo. In this gripping "what-happened-next" story, Rosina's and the Count's marriage has not progressed as joyfully as one might expect: he soon turns to other women, and foremostly to Susanna, Figaro's intended. When it is Figaro's turn to marry, the Count attempts to revive an old feudal tradition, jus primae noctis, meaning that it is the right of a feudal master to be the first to bed the young brides on his estate. Figaro, Susanna and the Countess Rosina do everything possible to stop the Count's scheming. First, they plan to dress up the young page, Cherubino, as a girl, to trick the Count in the park. This only leads to further complications, since the page had been driven from the castle by the Count to become a soldier. At last they succeed, by dressing up the Countess as Susanna, and the Count is caught trying to seduce his own wife in the park.
Le Nozze di Figaro is an opera buffa, and Mozart contrives to expand the genre to an exquisite climax. He enhances and refines the form with his knowledge of the human nature and psychological prowess, but also elevates the music far beyond the simple and buffa-esque. Within opera buffa, finales of the acts had started to evolve. The finales of the acts in opera seria contained only a single, grander aria, preceded by a recitativo accompagnato. But within the buffa, several singers could sing a more elaborately composed finale, initially most often as a simpler rondo. Mozart was inspired by this and expanded his finales – especially in the second and fourth acts – into long, elaborately composed sections of up to 25 minutes. The spoken lines are often performed there at the same speed as in a spoken drama, in an unending flow where the music depicts and gives depth to the situations throughout. One situation follows another, which has given them the name finale chain.
The finale of the second act is the most famous one and here there is reason to pause in a couple of places, to understand how Mozart composed them. The act takes place in the Countess' bedroom, where Susanna, together with her mistress, has attired the page Cherubino as a girl. Suddenly, the jealous Count pounds on the door and Cherubino has to hide in the closet. As the Count enters, he hears a noise from the closet and demands that the closet door be opened. When the Countess refuses, the Count leaves with her in search of tools to force the closet door open. In the meantime, Susanna helps the page escape through the window and takes his place in the closet. When the Count and Countess return, the Countess admits that Cherubino is hiding in the closet, and the Count is immediately enraged. Now the elaborately composed finale commences.
To the sounds of furious music, the Count calls on Cherubino to exit the closet and the Countess does everything to allay his fury. When at last the door flies open, the music stops and takes up a small skipping march in pianissimo. To the great astonishment of both the Count and the Countess, Susanna exits the closet: "My lord, why this uncertainty? Draw your sword and see if you find the page here!" Volumes have been written about the music accompanying Susanna's lines – what do the dotted accords in the muted march signify? Susanna's mincing steps across the floor? Or is it an allusion to Cherubino, who should in fact be a soldier, out marching? Or is it in effect the heartbeats of the indignant Countess, who after all also believed that Cherubino was in the closet? The Count vanishes into the closet and Susanna turns to the Countess and hurriedly explains what has transpired. When he returns: "What a mistake I made! I can hardly believe it!", the string instruments audibly laugh at him from the orchestra. It is as if there was another person present, laughing at the Count – maybe Mozart himself?
Like in an enchanting painting by Watteau, the eroticism lies ever just beneath the surface and Mozart incessantly exposes the internal driving forces of his characters.
The Count endeavours to persuade Susanna to soothe the Countess. At first he is shown no mercy and to pompous opera seria music with dramatic string sections, the Countess laments how poorly her faithfulness is rewarded. The Count calls his wife "Rosina" – the only time it happens in the entire opera – but she persists with her show of opera seria and claims that she is no longer Rosina, but a miserable victim of his disregard. The Count continues to question her: "But the page locked in the closet?" "Only to test you." "But your tremblings and shakings?" "Only to tease you." Each time the Countess gives her reply, the string instruments laugh their "ha-ha-ha" at the Count. There is no doubt about where Mozart's sympathies lie. At last, the Countess gives in and forgives her husband. They are reconciled and all three sing a – for the time being – joyful and harmonious ensemble. As few other composers, Mozart contrives to shift perspectives in his composing – at times he identifies with the characters' actions, sometimes he stands aside and comments or laughs at them. Using discreet ironic intimations, such as the subtle march or the Countess' opera seria intonation, he offers a series of different standpoints, which you scarcely have time to appreciate the first time you listen to it.
Le Nozze di Figaro is filled with a plethora of similar fancies and a string of captivating arias and ensembles. It is hard to choose among Figaro's riotously simpler arias, the Countess' exalted but deliciously beautiful, lamenting arias, Cherubino's breathlessly pubescent canzonettas or Susanna's sensual rose aria. Like in an enchanting painting by Watteau, the eroticism lies ever just beneath the surface and Mozart incessantly exposes the internal driving forces of his characters. Even teenage Barbarina's brief aria, which opens the fourth act, has been turned around and explored. As she is on her knees in the park, looking for the pin that she should have presented to the Count from Susanna, she sings the only aria in minor as the base key of the entire opera – why is this? Is it because she is a young, squeamish girl who takes the situation much too seriously? Or has she, in the midst of all the erotic entanglements, in fact lost something else much more precious?
The sophistication of the long finale in the second act is almost matched by the one in the fourth act. As the characters meander in the murky park, sometimes unaware of the other's true identity, Mozart uses his music to enhance the episode from a farcical carousel to a game of human instincts such as love, jealousy, arousal and frustration. In the end, the Count is exposed and must beg forgiveness of his Countess before all. Then, somehow, the universe comes to a halt in the general pause that follows. Will she forgive the man who has repeatedly subjected her to so much? In the end, she chooses to say yes. Mozart has slipped in a small, interesting detail into this heavenly music as well. When the Count begs forgiveness, it is to the tones of an upward sixth, which can be seen as being somewhat elusive. The Countess picks up the same melody, but instead leads off with a perfect fifth, which can be interpreted as her being more constant and faithful in her reply than the Count. Doubtlessly, she will suffer further affairs of infidelity on his part, at any rate if we are to believe Mozart's music. However, if you continue to read Beaumarchais' trilogy, she has her revenge at least, since Cherubino fathers her child. At any rate, Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro is a vertiginous study of human weaknesses and shortcomings, but also of courage, joy and a love that beats everything else.