A visit to the Savonlinna Opera Festival has become a summer ritual for me, something I eagerly look forward to.
One of the reasons is the possibility to hear well known opera companies and orchestras that the festival always invites as guests to widen the season’s repertoire. At best, there are two visiting companies in the month long festival season.
I have planned some of my holiday trips around the possibility to hear opera in a famous house, but my travels have never taken me to Dresden. However, the Swedish soprano -and court singer- Lena Nordin has told me about the wonderful quality of the Semperoper Dresden, and I planned my Savonlinna visit this year to catch them, and their much praised orchestra, the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden.
The performance was of Mozart’s opera buffa Le nozze di Figaro in a production that the company had premiered just a few weeks earlier.
The director Johannes Erath and his dramatist Francis Hüsers had concocted the directorial concept with a basis on the three original Figaro-themed plays written by the French Pierre Beaumarchais. (The libretto by Mozart and Da Ponte is based on the central play out of the three.)
The creative and rehearsal process has lead into an oddly plausible and fascinating sequence in which the first act is a brilliantly played-out performance of Commedia dell’arte, the second and third act refer to the times and minds of the Rococo and the theater of the Revolution. Gradually sliding out of the third act, the final fourth act is in the mood and visuals of a bourgeois tragedy, with Mozart’s recitatives spoken, not sung.
What worked gloriously on stage was the music. The orchestra is worthy of its reputation, and the singers were a truly polished ENSEMBLE in command of memorable vocal and acting quality. In theater, comedy nearing farce, with ironic sub-tones, is the most difficult style; these singing actors performed and sang with nouance and much skill. (Christoph Pohl as Count Almavira, Sarah-Jane Brandon as Countess Almavira, Emily Dorn as Susanna, Zachary Nelson as Figaro, Christina Bock as Cherubino, Sabine Brohm as Marcellina, Matthias Henneberg as Bartolo and the young Finnish Tuuli Takala as Barbarina.)
I can imagine that the stage design of Katrin Connan could work well in an intimate theater setting with proper theater machinery to create ”theater magic” with quick changes and shifting moods. However, Savonlinna’s stage is wide, shallow and totally open, and the space continues into the auditorium of 3000+ seats. The stagehands, dressed in the traditional black, were cleverly choreographed into the theatrical proceedings, but this did not help the visual entity from becoming cluttery and unintentional; everything is there on the stage to be seen, even if pushed aside for the next act.
The costumes designed by Birgit Wentsch followed delightfully the central concept, but Savonlinna’s grand scale did tricts again; to be truly enjoyed, a much more intimate setting would be needed.
While the evening proceeded, I often wondered about the magic of Mozart, and the never-changing human nature regarding love, lust, jealousy and greed, passion and longing, and what tangles all this can create. Somehow the timelessnes of the topic, and the love of Mozart for all his characters, and life, made the directorial concept work.
As a quite talkative opera, with the many recitatives here accompanied with either harpsicord or pianoforte by the conductor Omar Meir Wellber, Figaro is intimate, ultimately a chamber piece. The Savonlinna scale naturally calls for a verismo sweep in the repertoire choices.