Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

The real draw, especially at the end of a year saturated in Mozart, was meant to be the pianist Stephen Kovacevich’s first attempt at conducting an opera. The Suisse Romande orchestra decided otherwise and forced him out barely a week before the first night. The diplomatic spin was that the parting was amicable.

True or false, the show must go on and young Nicolas Chalvin took up the gauntlet. In Geneva’s alternative site for pre-Romantic opera, he conducts a wonderfully rounded account of the score: robust and playful, yet capable of broadening out climaxes to delicious effect. The performance I heard was all the more remarkable because his Fiordiligi, Jacquelyn Wagner, was an 11th-hour replacement, albeit one with a remarkable sense of Mozartian line and unfailing accuracy. Tomislav Muzek’s Ferrando, however, is a bull in a china shop, vocally too heavy for the role and consistently under pitch.

Bo Skovhus is the debonair Don Alfonso, a middle-aged beau who plays the manipulating Master of Ceremonies with an impressive command of gesture. He is the essential relay in Jean Jourdheuil’s neatly intelligent production, which strikes just the right balance between philosophical messages and humour. The characters, in pastel blues and pinks, are like figurines out of a display cabinet, hemmed in by Mark Lammert’s ingenious rotating panels, which come apart as the plot progresses and moral fortitude regresses.

Lothar Baumgarte’s lighting is fashionably glaring, but it does throw an uncompromising spotlight on Jourdheuil’s astute choreography. The black cassocks of the chorus seem to anticipate the Masonic elements in The Magic Flute so this is a didactic initiation into how the real world operates. At the end, the principals separate and pin themselves against their respective panels. The “morality” play is over, and the point has been made with typically French elegance.

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