Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday June 14 2009

Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer. Production: Christof Loy (reprise by Dagmar Pischel). Sets and costumes: Herbert Murauer. Conte Almaviva: Stéphane Degout. Contessa: Andrea Rost. Susanna: Ingela Bohlin. Figaro: Alex Esposito. Cherubino: Sophie Marilley. Marcellina: Helen Field. Bartolo: Jan-Hendrik Rootering. Don Basilio: John Graham-Hall. Don Curzio: Enrico Casari. Antonio: Frédéric Caton. Barbarina: Fflur Wyn. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Too often I forget the advice of an old friend in the UK: expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.

I’d been looking forward to this Sunday. One of our regular co-subscribers was off at a christening or some such nonsense, so it was a chance to show Brussels and La Monnaie to someone else, on what was supposed to be a warm, sunny day. On paper the cast of Le Nozze looked alright. Christoph Loy can be an interesting director. In the end, however, it was mostly what the French call “un jour sans” – an off day.

Not that we missed the train or even, despite a handful of union protesters letting off sirens at the Gare du Nord (don’t ask me why; nothing better to do on a Sunday I imagine) that it was cancelled or delayed. But roughly at the Belgian border it started to rain - something Google, at 8 a.m., hadn’t anticipated. We hadn’t brought umbrellas (wimpish things I hate anyway), in Brussels the rain was quite heavy, and seeing the excellent summer weather in Paris our guest had rashly put on white espadrilles (more wimpish things I hate, though I imagine wiry Mediterranean peasants would deny the wimpishness). So we had to skip the sights, sounds and smells (hot dogs mostly) of the bazaar-like Sunday market outside the station and take a taxi to the centre. There, after picking up some gingerbread at Dandoy's, it was too wet to linger on the famous square, so we ducked into the arcades for lunch.

I suppose if we ate too much it was our fault. Then it was hot and stuffy at the Métropole over coffee, and of course it was hot and stuffy up in the gods at La Monnaie. But a zippy Nozze (Jacobs-style) in an exciting production (the posters looked promising) might have perked us up. No way. It was soon clear that (a) Jérémie Rhorer is no René Jacobs and (b) as is often the case these days (I wonder why) the posters bore no relation to the staging, which was simply uninteresting. A dull set: broken parquet and three doors. Dull lighting and dusty-looking props. Ill-fitting, unflattering costumes (why did the countess wear red high heels with an apricot satin slip and robe? Why didn't the count's clothes fit better?). The direction (this production is over ten years old; I don’t think Loy was there in person to revive it) emptied the work of its nobility and reduced the acting to something approaching boulevard farce, which Le Nozze is not. The singers worked hard at it, but didn’t seem convinced or convincing. To be honest, more than one professional critic has proclaimed it was a theatrical triumph, but I don’t see why.

The men sang best – some of them at any rate. But even the usually excellent Stéphane Degout seemed miscast as the count: too youthful and lacking in authority, vocally and dramatically. Beside him, Andrea Rost looked almost matronly. She had a far bigger voice than the rest of the cast (“a sore thumb” were words that came to mind) with an unpleasantly tart edge to it. La Libre Belgique perhaps went too far in saying Helen Field had “no more voice at all,” but it certainly was wobbly. This may be par for the course with Marcellinas, but was disconcerting when you read in the programme notes that she’s a Salome specialist. Alex Esposito had a certain Maurizio-Benigni-like, arm-waving charm as Figaro. The rest of the cast was unexciting, apart from the real star of the show: John Graham-Hall, this season’s Aschenbach, back as Don Basilio. But of course, a luxury Don Basilio doesn’t rescue a dull Nozze.

So at the interval we trooped off to the place des Sablons for a drink on a café terrace. It rained.

Comments

  1. well, in my modest opinion, Mozart is played the best in Vienna. There is just something authentic to listen to his music in the very same halls where many of his premieres were held or where he performed.

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