The Greek National Opera has been around for 80 years and it boasts of 3000 performances of 500 works. In a huge step forward, it has started streaming some of its productions and the latest is a thoroughly entertaining staging of The Marriage of Figaro. It deserves praise for the singing, orchestral playing and the highly imaginative sets.
I will start with the work of Director Alexandros Efklidis and Set Designer Yannis Katranitsas. They have come up with an imaginative and at times brilliant idea for showcasing the goings on in the mansion of Count Almaviva. The action of The Marriage of Figaro in this production takes place in eight rooms and Katranitsas wants us to see all of them alone or as many as five of them at once arrayed across the large stage of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens. I am not sure what the audience sees in a live performance. I could not make out if it was a revolving stage or the sets were changed as necessary with moving them around.
Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou has dramaturged Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto to give us a fresh and vibrant view of the actions and interactions of the characters and has added a few more people and scenes for good measure. She is credited as Collaborating Director as well.
We start with frantic activity during the overture where we see people run in and out of rooms reminiscent of a Feydeau farce. Cherubino is caught with Barbarina. Count Almaviva is in his bedroom in an unmade bed and a pretty woman who is taking some of her clothes off and joins him. I will not tell you who she is and you may assume they are not playing chess. That and much more.
The opera starts in Figaro and Susanna’s new bedroom where Figaro is measuring the space for a new bed. Usually, they are alone but Efklidis provides him with three assistants. Count Almaviva is visible behind the door to his bedroom. As the plot develops, we will see a kitchen where maids prepare food and which has a handy refrigerator that serves as an escape hatch for many of the characters including, of course, Cherubino, who hides in it. And there is a toilet with useful shower curtains and all the amenities of a very busy large house. It also has a garden and they bring out plants and shrubs to accommodate the action in the last scene.
There is a smartly uniformed guard standing at attention by Count Almaviva. There are servants, including one preparing a tray of food. When Marcelina sings about the happy life of billy-goats and she-goats and frets that poor women are always treated perfidiously and cruelly by men, she is mauled by the guard. He suggestively unbuttons her and then bares his athletic chest.
In the plethora of characters and comings and goings, there is a man in many scenes sitting at a harpsichord with some sheet music in front of him, I could not figure out what he is all about. But he does add to the very busy nature of the production. None of these people and actions appear in da Ponte’s text.
Let us praise the singers. A significant number of them are Greeks. That should not be worthy of comment but it is. Greece has a phenomenal cultural heritage but opera is not one of them. Some great singers, yes, but how many have made a career of their vocal prowess in Greece? Not many, to be polite. But the singers in this production as individuals and more importantly as an ensemble do outstanding work in performing this great opera.
Baritone Dionysios Sourbis is an excellent Figaro. His Figaro is smart (but not as smart as Susanna), inventive, loveable and his light baritone voice sounds beautiful. Soprano Aphrodite Patoulidou’s Susanna is attractive, clever and we root for her from the moment we meet her. He lovely voice captivates us from start to finish.
Bass-baritone Dimitri Platanias is perhaps the most well-known cast member and he plays the muscular, blustering and arrogant Count Almaviva. Efklidis, as I said, wastes no time in showing us that Almaviva has seriously wandering hormones. Platanias sings and acts the role with aplomb and we simply wait for him to be brought to earth and beg “Contessa, perdono.” Platanias shows superb vocal and acting prowess.
Romanian soprano Cellia Costea represents the Countess as a woman that is past her prime and may explain her husband’s roving eye. She is a sympathetic woman who is deeply hurt by his infidelity. She expresses her unhappiness in her great arias “Porgi, amor” and “Dove sono.” All we want is beautiful singing expressing sorrow and pain. Efklidis, in this case unfortunately, creates activity for her. She picks up some sheets of paper and a pen, signs something. She picks up a photo album and looks through it. She does not achieve the emotional depth that we look for and it may not be because she is not capable of doing it but because she is kept busy doing irrelevant things.
Mezzo-soprano Miranda Makrynioti is a petite, agile, hormonally supercharged Cherubino with a delightful voice and a wonderful performance. Marissia Papalexiou plays the plotting Marcelina who, with the devious Dr. Bartolo, (Yannis Yannisis) tries to score some money for breach of promise to marry. In this production she is played as a sexually attractive vixen. A positive change.
Vassilis Christopoulos conducts the highly capable Greek National Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
The production strives to illustrate many aspects of the opera by showing a wealth of activity that one never sees. The odd time it seems like too much activity. But the result is a colourful, vibrant, well-sung and wonderful performance. A joy to hear and see.
The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a production by the Greek National Opera at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens is being streamed by GNO TV. For more information visit https://www.nationalopera.gr/