There are two ways of staging The Marriage of Figaro. There is the old-fashioned way, as a comedy; and then there is a regietheater way of staging it as a tragedy. Both ways are legitimate. As I once wrote, “Mozart’s (and Da Ponte’s) Così fan tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro sparkle with comic brilliance on the surface, but under the surface is a deep sadness, and an unbearable pain.” To stage it as a tragedy one has only to take the background sadness and bring it into the foreground. A brilliant example of such an approach is the 2006 Salzburg Festival staging by Claus Guth with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting. It is a wonderfully sad and moving performance and completely riveting. Like all regietheater, however, it is meant for an audience that already knows the opera well. It would be a pity to be introduced to Le Nozze through that performance. For first time listeners, the old-fashioned approach is better.
The current staging by Jean-Louis Martinoty of Le Nozze at the Vienna State Opera is old-fashioned in the relevant sense. I attended a performance yesterday. The conductor, Ádám Fischer, gave a brilliantly sparkling and comedic interpretation of the music. As the music critic of the Viennese paper Die Presse, somewhat amusingly put it:
In the State opera production of Figaro under Adam Fischer, the musicians played with palpable pleasure, whimsy, and nimbleness; like in the good old days, when Mozart-performance was not yet afflicted by historical criticism, but was a living Viennese tradition.
A good way of comparing the Adam/Martinoty production with Guth/Harnoncourt is to look at the duet Crudel! Perché finora, in which Susanna agrees to a rendezvous with the Count, intending to trick him. Andrea Carroll, who sang Susanna yesterday, was wonderfully cool and controlled in the scene giving an impression of calculated dissimilation of her loathing for the count. I don’t have a clip of her performance, but here is a clip of Valentina Naforniţa in an earlier production of the same Martinoty staging in Vienna:
Carroll’s performance yesterday was similar, but, so to speak, even cooler. The comic element of the scene is foregrounded: Susanna is making a fool of the Count.
Contrast that with Anna Netrebko’s performance in the Guth/Harnoncourt production:
Netrebko’s Susanna is not cool; she is evidently attracted to the Count in spite of herself. When she sings Scusatemi se mento, / voi che intendete amor, it is therefore not funny. It is sad. But the staging multiples that sadness to an agonizing degree by having the Countess look on at the scene. Dorothea Röschman is a good actress. The suffering that unfaithfulness causes that runs through the whole opera is foregrounded.