I’m not sure why, but I own that DVD of the sad depressing Figaro with the leaves and the dead crow and all that. I watched it again this evening, and possibly this is a failure of sophistication on my part (and in academia, such failures can get you fired) but this production really does manage to suck everything that is good and sweet out of that opera. And Figaro is sweet, not in a cloying way, but in a pleasant way – not too sweet. But even on a third or fourth viewing, this particular version is seriously depressing. The moments that are normally funny fall like lead; the audience knows that they are not supposed to laugh. The only part where they do is where the count stalks into his wife’s room with an axe (to open a locked door), and I believe that it’s specifically an axe is in the libretto, so presumably most of the audience has seen this before and knows it’s coming, but it’s still usually pretty effective as a gag. In this case it’s a big axe, and the laughter ends quite quickly when said axe is aimed at the countess. Bo Skovus’s height is an advantage here. One gets the sense that the count could very easily crush his wife, which I suppose is the point. The threat of violence is just serious enough that it feels out of place in this story. There are productions where he slaps her, but here it’s more of the I-will-knock-you-to-the-floor (which happens once), drag you by your hair (ditto) and/or squeeze your breasts so hard it will probably hurt rather a lot (ditto) sort of thing. On the other hand, Roeschmann’s countess appears to be kind of into it. Again, this is not ordinarily a BDSM-y sort of opera.
Harnoncourt’s sepulchral tempos, though, do tend to call attention to details of the orchestration that you (meaning me) might otherwise miss. But still, the fact that I had to write the phrase “not ordinarily a BDSM-y sort of opera” indicates the territory we are in here. (If anyone can give me an example of an opera written before 1900 that is normally fairly BDSM-y and was written that way, I will, in the spirit of this depressing production of Figaro, send you an apple and a handful of feathers.)
Also, I could have done without the camera above the staircase and with far less Countess-sprawled-on-the-floor: I swear, this production has more unintentional (?) cleavage than I have seen in a while.