Seldom has such stellar talent taken such glorious source material and produced such unconvincing results. As an admirer of Netrebko, Schafer, Harnoncourt and "concept" productions in general, I looked forward to this DVD with much anticipation, and I find it hard to overstate my disappointment. Productions that add new insights by taking calculated risks are to be welcomed, but this one is too clever by half, misses the point and ends up compromising one of the greatest operas.
The main culprits are Harnoncourt and Guth, who have decided to turn this edgy and brilliant comedy into a dreary and often pretentious bore.
The set is a depressing over-scaled turn-of-the century interior gone to seed. Dead crows, feathers, leaves and other detritus litter the stage. This sets the tone, as the opera's extraordinary subtlety, inference, pace and wit are overshadowed by heavy-handed symbolism, occasional nastiness, and depressing, ponderous tempos. An unscripted teenager dressed as a cherub flounces on stage every now and then to remind us that the protagonists' love-interests are complex and intertwined, on one occasion providing us with a PowerPoint presentation in case we are too dim to get the point. Every time this ludicrous figure enters, the protagonists go into slow motion, which would be merely silly if the entire production wasn't already in slow motion, Harnoncourt having decided to linger over every phrase, in the process losing most of the sparkle and tension in the score.
Guth takes an outstanding cast and wastes them. Christine Schafer would have been wonderful as Cherubino had she not been forced into agonizingly slow tempi and ridiculous situations. In one memorable moment, when Cherubino says to the Countess ". . . perhaps these lips would dare . . ." she does so after both the Countess and Susanna have been sucking Cherubino's lips off his (her) face. And then the unscripted cherub drifts in, symbolically dispensing feathers over the protagonists.
As for the rest, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo is a dour Figaro, Bo Skovhus a nasty Count, Patrick Henckens a bizarre Basilio in a wheelchair (on one offensive occasion, falling out of it). Dorothea Roschmann a pathetic Countess. Anna Netrebko tries her best as Susanna, but not even she can inject enough levity to redeem this humourless and pretentious show.