Herheim’s Figaro At Hamburg

I was bowled over by Stefan Herheim’s production of Parsifal at Bayreuth: imaginative, beautiful to look at, rich in detail, if also complex. Then came the disappointment of his Serse at Düsseldorf which was simplistic, communicating little about the work. Would his Figaro at Hamburg herald a return to form? It might be a little unfair to judge it on the basis of the performance I attended with a cast mostly different from that which had given the premiere in November 2015. In general they seemed ill at ease with a staging which, in places, was far from traditional. The idea of representing convolutions of human relationships through visual images of music, to complement Mozart’s score, was an interesting one. But after a while the omnipresence of hundreds of prints of musical parts on the stage (they were also used to represent letters, contracts, flowers etc) became tiresome, not the last because they crackled when unavoidably they were trodden on. More radical was Herheim’s version of the last act which was played in broad daylight, instead of dusk, the protagonists all being able to observe the intrigues occurring. As a Brechtian device this was, again, interesting, but it was not performed with conviction, the cast and indeed the audience remaining nonplussed by the proceedings. Veteran conductor Erich Wächter offered an attractive, pliant, reading of the score but, with the exception of Jacquelyn Wagner who deployed her creamy lyrical soprano to great effect, internalising the predicament of the Countess into the musical phrasing, the singers were not of a standard to be expected at an international house. I seem to have bad luck on my visits to the Hamburg Staatsoper; another frustrating evening.