Watching The Marriage of Figaro at the Wiener Staatsoper

It was such a joy to see Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera House) last night, May 2, 2017. It was my first live opera but not my first experience watching a show at the Wiener Staatsoper.

Last March 4, I watched the ballet Onegin which was very beautiful, I have to say. The dance, the music, the set, the story – all were great. Unfortunately, I was overwhelmed by the experience of being at the Staatsoper for the first time that I couldn’t write an acceptable piece for my blog.

This time around, it’s different.

I still went for the standing room tickets, reasonably priced at 3 to 4 euros depending on the spot you pick. Tickets for the Praterre standing area cost 4 euros while those for the Balcony and Gallery standing rooms cost 3 euros. For Onegin, I picked the Praterre, which gave me a relatively close, eye-level view of the stage. However, heads of other SRO viewers often obstructed my line of sight that I had to tiptoe at times.

So, for The Marriage of Figaro, I tried the Gallery, located at the highest level of the Staatsoper. Luckily, I was among the first ones to fall in line for the Gallery and I secured a spot in the front row – middle of the standing area. The grand chandelier was at eye-level and I witnessed it slowly dim when the opera was about to start. Looking down from there, I had a good (although farther) view of the stage and the orchestra without anything or anyone blocking my line of sight.

It was such a delight to see Adam Fischer make all those lively gestures as he conducted the orchestra. It was also amusing to watch the members of the orchestra as they were playing Mozart’s music and to see which instruments were being played and which ones were taking a pause.

The whole orchestra’s energy and elegance was matched by the powerful, witty performances of the cast. Valentina Naforniţa’s smart and spirited Susanna was a perfect pair for the clever, playful Figaro played by Carlos Álvarez. All the schemes and alibis that this couple had to create just to outsmart Count Almaviva, played by Adam Plachetka, hit the right marks and elicited frequent giggles from the audience.

My favorite scene involved all of those three characters: when Figaro was trying to prove (or, rather, to lie) to the Count about the non-involvement of the page boy Cherubino in their schemes – a situation he almost botched but somehow was able to win with the helpful signals from Susanna and the Countess.

A close favorite scene of mine was when Figaro’s lies about the (non)involvement of Cherubino was later on almost revealed but Figaro was able to salvage it with further alibis and confusing rhetoric that the poor Count, not knowing what to believe anymore, was already hyperventilating and had to be fanned by one of his servants. After this scene, I thought to myself: one has to admire how Plachetka could be serious and make himself look funny while still singing an operatic piece.

Adding to the beauty of this hilarious domestic comedy was the set design which seemed to reflect the state of things in Almaviva’s household. Central to the story was the Count’s plan to reinstate the right of manor lords to bed their female servants on their wedding night, a move which would have challenged the acceptable norms of love and marriage even back then (considering that the Count himself abolished that right many years ago).

The set, starting as a room filled with various things, was as disorderly as the state of marital affairs in Almaviva’s household at the beginning of the opera. As the Count’s plan to have an extramarital encounter with Susanna became unraveled and as the characters eventually won back their rightful partners, the set became more spacious. Likewise, the interior of the manor gave way to a garden – a space located out in the open and close to nature, which made it a suitable setting for exposing secrets and feelings and for the restoration of norms.

All’s well that ends well for the characters of this opera buffa but I will always remember how Figaro, Susanna and the Countess Rosina gave Count Almaviva the best joke of his life.

Le Nozze di Figaro will have further performances at the Wiener Staatsoper. For the list of upcoming events at the Vienna State Opera House, please check their website.

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