Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Peter Sellars (3)

(Previous section here.)

But at the same time, the three most important female characters – Susanna (Jeanne Ommerlé), the Countess, and Marcellina (Sue Ellen Kuzma) all sound surprisingly similar. For whatever reason, we’ve got a trio of women who all have silvery, bright-sounding voices. And there isn’t even much contrast between them and Cherubino, sung by Susan Larson, who also has that sort of voice. Often you get a noticeable contrast in timbre of some kind between Susanna and the Countess, but here not so much.

I don’t know whether this is the intent or not, but it certainly tracks with the emphasis that the stage direction places on solidarity among the women. Or maybe solidarity is the wrong word – more of a shared awareness that in the system of power as it stands in this opera, women have to put up a certain sort of persistent bullshit that the men do not. Susanna and the Countess get nearly identical stage direction during the letter song (there are bits of this production in terms of – literal – handwaving and matched-up movement that remind me of the Guth version) and during Susanna’s “deh, vieni” in Act IV Susanna looks utterly miserable – this Susanna is emphatically not enjoying the chance to play a little joke on Figaro – and the Countess lingers, looking sympathetic, while Marcellina turns up to give her a supportive hug halfway through. The three leave together afterward with the other two still comforting Susanna. Maybe having to pretend to serenade your boss in a way that you know will deeply hurt your husband isn’t as fun as it sounds. This version of the opera also includes Marcellina’s “il capro e la capretta.” (And to carry the theme of ‘how do you deal with systemic bullshit from categories of people that have more power than you do?’ we also get Basilio’s “I act like an ass!” aria – and he really does, what with the obnoxious trousers and the camcorder in everyone’s face during the wedding.)

In purely musical terms, I also noticed a number of really well-handled shifts in tempo or mood. For example, in Act II, at the beginning of “conoscete, signor Figaro” where the Count feels like he’s back in control of things after all that confusing business with the closet, you really hear that transition in the orchestra. The same is true at several other points where how an ensemble is working musically takes a turn that goes with an important point in the drama – i.e. in the scene where Figaro’s parentage is revealed, the conversation about the strawberry/spatula-shaped mark on Figaro’s arm goes at lightening speed, and then slows up dramatically when Marcellina recognizes Figaro as her long-lost son. And the women’s chorus gets in some very smooth, nicely shaped singing during “ricevete, o padroncina” (you can really hear the interaction between the chorus parts and the violins).

I guess the question I always end up asking about opera productions by Peter Sellars is whether the political commentary is revelatory or distracting. (I guess it can be both. There is a slightly hyperactive quality to the level of detail in some of his productions.) In this case, it’s not anything you’ve never heard before in terms of statements, but I think it works.