Review: Fine Cast Revives Strehler’s Treasured “Nozze di Figaro” Production – Opera National de Paris, May 31, 2011

The Opera National de Paris had never presented Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” in its original Italian until 1973, when the company came under the new directorship of Rolf Liebermann. That production, conceived by Italian stage director Giorgio Strehler, was noted for its elegance and grace. Were Strehler still alive, this would be his 90th year.

Between 1974 and 1983 Strehler’s production was performed during eight seasons at the Opera Palais Garnier. Then it was produced at the Opera Bastille for seven seasons between 1990 and 2003. During these two periods, a very large percentage of the great contemporary Mozart opera singers performed for Parisian audiences in this production.

[Below: Italian Director Giorgio Strehler (1921-1997); resized image, based on a historical photograph.]

The middle of the 21st century’s first decade was a period of different directions for Opera National de Paris, but now, with new management at the helm, the Strehler vision of Mozart’s great revolutionary work has been revived. Members of Strehler’s original team were enlisted, led by Humbert Carmelo and Marise Flach.

[Below: Figaro (Erwin Schrott) suggests to Cherubino (Isabel Leonard) what military life will be like; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the Opera National de Paris.]

The production’s Parisian sets had been destroyed, but La Scala’s sets, that incorporate Ezio Frigerio’s spacious set designs and the costumes (many original) designed by Frigerio and his long-time partner Franca Squarciapano were borrowed by Paris. (A historic DVD, conducted by Georg Solti dating from the 1980 season, provides a visual record of the Parisian sets.)

Like several of the previous Parisian seasons, for 2010-11, both a fall and spring cast were assembled.

[Below: Susanna (Julia Kleiter, right, playing guitar) accompanies Cherubino (Isabel Leonard) as the Countess Almaviva (Dorothea Roeschmann) listens to his song; edited image, based on a Mirco Magliocca photograph, courtesy of the Opera National de Paris.]

I attended performances of the Spring cast in which Uruguayan basso Erwin Schrott proved to be an engaging and spirited Figaro, brilliant in the showpieces from “Se vuol ballare” through “Aprite un po’ quegli’occhi”, and glorying in the opportunities for humor in his ensembles provided him by Mozart, Strehler and Camerlo.

The trio of principal females was led by the Susanna of German soprano Julia Kleiter. In this opera, about a chambermaid who brings together forces to defeat the sexual designs upon her by a person of power, she was always at the center of the swift-moving action.

[Below: the Countess Almaviva (Dorothea Roeschmann) is charmed by the boyish adoration of Cherubino (Isabel Leonard).]

The Count Almaviva, whom Susanna defeats in the sexual wars, was impressively played by British baritone Christopher Maltman, whom I had last seen in another Mozart role, Papageno [See The Magic Scarfe: “Zauberfloete” in San Francisco – October 13, 2007.] Maltman has emerged as a distinguished Mozartean. The Count’s great third act monologue, culminating in the aria Vedro mentre io sospiro, was especially praiseworthy.

The Countess Almaviva was Dorothea Roeschmann, whose rich, nicely focused vibrato provided a luxurious feel to the Countess’ two great arias.

I had seen Isabel Leonard in the role of Cherubino previously at the Santa Fe Opera summer festival (See Kwiecien, Pisaroni Lead Youthful “Figaro” Ensemble in Santa Fe – August 13, 2008]. She is unquestionably emerging as one of the greatest  Cherubinos of her generation.

[Below: Ezio Frigerio’s Act III sets for “Le Nozze di Figaro”; edited image, based on a Mirco Magliocca photograph, courtesy of the Opera National de Paris.]

Each of the smaller roles were memorable. Maurizio Muraro (Dr Bartolo) and Ann Murray (Marcellina) were hilarious as Figaro’s (Raffaele)’s madre and padre. Supported by the Don Basilio of Robin Leggate, the Don Curzio of Antoine Normand, the Antonio of Christian Treguier and the Barbarina of Zoe Nicolaidou, every ensemble was well-balanced vocally and appropriately madcap. The ballet, whose choreographer was Jean Guizerix, provided dignity to the wedding march and subsequent scene.

The Orchestre et Choeur de L’Opera National de Paris was conducted by Israeli Dan Ettinger to brilliant effect. The spacious Bastille stage again proved hospitable to Frigerio’s elegant sets.

For other reviews of “Nozze di Figaro” on this website, see: Domingo’s Domain: The Incredible Maestro Conducts Los Angeles Opera “Nozze” – October 6, 2010, and also,

Copley Directs, Luisotti Conducts, Sparkling “Nozze” Ensemble – San Francisco Opera, October 3, 2010, and also,

Festival Casting for Lyric Opera’s “Nozze di Figaro” – Chicago, March 9, 2010, and also,

S. F. “Nozze di Figaro” – July 2, 2006.