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Photo: Matthias Horn


Martin Kusej’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro at the Salzburg Festival puts Countess Almaviva at the center of a well-conceived, bold, daring and beautifully executed update of the Mozart classic in the composer’s hometown.

Idea, set design, stage technique, orchestral playing and star soloists blend together in a first-class, original opera production that manages to both celebrate Mozart’s genius and shake up tradition.

South American lyric soprano Adriana Gonzáles is outstanding as the opera’s beleaguered Countess Almaviva, who has to deal with the Count loving her the most because he believes she is someone else – and yet ends up forgiving him in the gripping final scene, which is one of Mozart’s most eloquent compositions – and that’s saying something.

The finale with the iconic female leaps is a masterpiece of musical purity and emotional release on an almost religious level.

Updating classical operas is a risky business that rarely turns out as successfully as this one.

The Austrian-born director seems to have been inspired by the ‘forgotten’ chapter in Figaro’s past, where he is actually a rich man’s child who was kidnapped by gangsters and later found as a foundling in a basket of precious stones and expensive clothes.

In this glorious interpretation, the entire story is set in a gangster environment and switches between locations of a mafioso criminal, visual nature – such as a flashy luxury bar Upper Manhattan style, a battered bathhouse where someone is about to get beaten up, and a dank concrete basement seven floors below ground where both parties and prelude to a regular shootout take place.

The last part takes place in the garden of the Count’s residence, but the aspect ratio has been fiddled with, so the grass is meters high and the humans are reduced to some kind of experimental animals, busy ants or strange insects under a magnifying glass.

It is as if we are studying the nature of love and human nature in a kind of terrarium. After all, isn’t that what art does when it’s good? Angles and mirrors our inner selves so we can see who we are.

The overture is delivered as clear-sounding as I don’t remember hearing it before, with undeniable excellence by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Raphaël Pichon.
The string of hit arias is impeccably delivered along the way by André Schuen as Capo Almaviva and Sabine Devieilhe as Susanna – here portrayed as an exceptionally sexy, long-legged maid.
The Countess/Gonzalés is a crowd favorite in the iconic tearjerkers Porgi, Amor and Dove Sono, where she reflects with touching tenderness on love’s brutal mix of infidelity, jealousy and grief.

This scene is beautifully, beautifully staged as a kind of double portrait, with the Countess singing in front of Courbet’s famous pussy painting from the Gare D’Orsay (excuse my French) on one side of the stage – while a completely undressed Susanna takes a bath in the other – a devilish combo and a damn good idea, simply put.

Shortly afterwards, the Salzburg audience is about to drop their jaws when the Count visits a stark naked prostitute who slowly dresses the untouched singing wiseguy tenor after their rendezvous.

Absolutely piquant stage art with a tabloid wake-up effect, but not without meaning in the narrative’s perspective, which goes straight to branding the Count as the narcissistic boor he is.

He even looks good, in a slim-fit italiano suit including a shiny silver handgun that is drawn on several occasions (Can you say phallus).

All in all, an excellent, innovative performance that takes the audience by storm and elicits raucous cheers during the recitals.
Top class opera in Salzburg, scoring five stars from Got To SeeT his.