A flat Figaro and some well-rounded spacemen

Le Nozze di Figaro | Glyndebourne Festival Opera LSO/Star Trek and the World of Fantasy | Barbican, London
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So it's official: research has shown that Mozart is good for your brain. If, that is, you're a rat. On the musical evolutionary scale I suppose the nearest thing is a critic, but I trekked down to the opening night of Glyndebourne less in search of expanding my brain than warming my heart. Can there be any more affectionately humanistic opera than Le Nozze di Figaro - a Capra-esque romp of foibles, misunderstanding and forgiveness, delineated by the most perfect of musical structures? But Graham Vick's elegantly monochrome production was an affair of the head, not the heart.

So it's official: research has shown that Mozart is good for your brain. If, that is, you're a rat. On the musical evolutionary scale I suppose the nearest thing is a critic, but I trekked down to the opening night of Glyndebourne less in search of expanding my brain than warming my heart. Can there be any more affectionately humanistic opera than Le Nozze di Figaro - a Capra-esque romp of foibles, misunderstanding and forgiveness, delineated by the most perfect of musical structures? But Graham Vick's elegantly monochrome production was an affair of the head, not the heart.

Moan as everyone did about the cool, bare sets, it was not the lack of upholstery that stripped this opera of its warmth. Vick's Figaro is the second part of his Da Ponte trilogy. An odd place to begin, but the first performance at Glyndebourne, back in 1934, was Figaro so I guess that that was the reason it opened the season.

The idea, as far as I can gather, is that Così fan Tutte represents youth and innocence, Figaro maturity and compromise and Don Giovanni experience and corruption. All perfectly reasonable if rather simplistic thumbnail thematic analyses. But the operas were written in the order of Figaro, Don Giovanni, then Così, and will open in the order of Figaro, Così, then Don Giovanni, so the trilogy concept (which is Vick's baby rather than Mozart's or even Da Ponte's) seems laboured from the start. It also ignores the brutality of Così - a far bitterer and more mature portrait of romantic disillusionment than Don Giovanni. Perhaps I'm being overly literal here but it seems obvious to me that composers develop chronologically. In any case, this Figaro (which follows on from the "rehearsal space" Così of 1998) seems confined rather than illuminated by its role as one third of a whole - and how can an opera breathe if it is straitjacketed by directorial theory?

Figaro fills out Vick's original white space - but barely - with a series of gauze-partitioned two-sided "rooms", which unfold during Act Three and are ingeniously tilted on their sides to suggest the gardens in Act Four. I found it rather attractive at first; the stage is clean and simple and the lighting beautifully graded. But it was hard to believe this was the same design team that had flooded Covent Garden with colour, dimension and movement in Meistersinger, and as the opera developed I grew increasingly irritated trying to work out what the symbolism (or obscurantism) actually meant.

At one point it seemed that the gauze walls were a vertical glass ceiling recalling the class tensions in Beaumarchais's original play. But other than some slightly fussy stage business when Figaro climbs on top of a cardboard box (a highly seditious act in pre-revolutionary Europe - lack of 18th-century cardboard notwithstanding), and the relatively unconventional casting of a Figaro and Susanna who are taller than their aristocratic employers (overturning the customary subconscious operatic eugenics), the political element is underplayed. The protagonists variously see through the walls or react to them as though they are opaque. A nice way of illustrating each character's up-to-dateness with the developing plot, perhaps? But inconsistencies flood in and people smooch through the walls like Pyramus and Thisbe or swoon against them like auto-eroticists engaged in heavy petting with full-length mirrors - all of which seems unrelated to the drama. What can I say? I just don't think it worked.

In the interval it was obvious I wasn't the only disappointed member of the audience. One terribly sophisticated-looking grand dame spoke to me. "I always thought this opera could be made boring," she said in an aristocratic drawl, "but I never thought it would be proved." Ouch. I have to admit that the idea of Figaro being made boring had never occurred to me. Nonetheless, I could see what she meant. But back in the auditorium, I grew annoyed at how spoilt we were all becoming. First night audiences are often pernickety (perhaps even more so at Glyndebourne) but surely it wasn't possible to be bored by a great work of art - no matter how elliptical the staging.

Not if you listened carefully to what Andrew Davis was doing with the orchestra. Minute hints of colour that I swear I hadn't really noticed before (and this has to be the most well-known opera in the canon) were highlighted: the sighing strings on the words "sognando" and "vegliando" in Cherubino's first aria, the piquancy of the bass-line in Figaro and Susanna's duet in Act Four. Textures were brought out, contrasted, decorated and linked. The tempi were delicious (though too sprightly for some of the singers), the dynamics wide in range. Davis's attention to detail is remarkable, all the more so in that it was never displayed to the detriment of the whole.

If you concentrated on the details of the characterisations too, there was much that was rewarding. The singing was stylish and idiomatic, the cast young and energetic. Figaro and Susanna were a believable couple, the kind of whom people say are meant for each other. Peter Mattei and Christiane Oelze seemed genuinely physically at ease with each other - intimate, sexy, affectionate. Mariusz Kwiecien's Count was no aged roué, just a co-dependent husband who got his kicks out of sexual jealousy and marital tension. As the Countess, Maria Costanza Nocentini was less convincing, for though I enjoyed the production's paired use of 18th-century gesture and modern mannerisms (the women could flick back their loose hair with their hands for most of Act One), she was a little too 20th century, mooning neurotically around the stage like Sarah Jessica Parker pining for Mr Big in Sex and the City. Tiny mezzo Marina Comparato was a huge hit as the ardent Cherubino, and the rest of the supporting cast - which included Diana Montague as a very sexy Marcellina - were superb in ensemble and comic timing.

All in all it was an odd evening. Glyndebourne always makes me slightly nervous - all that worrying about what to wear, and the giddying effect of being out of London but feeling as though you're still somehow there. The elements of success were in place, and I'm sure the cohesion of the cast will grow stronger through the run. But something didn't gel and I've a nasty feeling it's because of the that trilogy concept.

There was not a hint of boredom from the audience at the LSO's marvellous "feast for sci-fi buffs" on Tuesday - despite hearing a lot of music in the same key. Jerry Goldsmith, septuagenarian conductor and composer of music for Star Trek, Alien, Total Recall and Logan's Run (plus another 160 films and 40 TV series), was a model for growing old utterly disgracefully and still being completely cool. What a geezer! What banter! What a ponytail!

Effective film composition is a skill and Goldsmith's writing shows his study with emigrant Second Viennese School serialists more than most; a 12 (tone) trick pony, if you like. It's disconcerting to be listening out for the Borg theme or the Spock theme rather than Tristan's leitmotif but it's all extremely enjoyable and technically well crafted, with a bent to the raucously uplifting and jovially martial. Or should that be martially jovial? The harpist's hands skittered up and down like nails on the back of a frenzied one-night stand and the percussionists looked as though all their Christmases had come at once as they raced around the back of the stage providing the crashing multiple musical climaxes and the shimmery-glimmery, wooshy-swooshy bits in between. The LSO looked almost as entertained as the audience, and though Goldsmith told us 40 Klingons had attended a concert he gave in Aberdeen, there was not one Trekkie uniform in sight.

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