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  • Mozart22: A DVD Review Portfolio Metatheatrical Mozart at the 2006 Salzburg Festival
  • Majel Connery (bio)

Commentators on Le nozze di Figaro have often seen Cherubino less as a figure unto himself than as a symbol or a projection of another character. Søren Kierkegaard famously cast the page as a childish version of Don Giovanni. For Mary Hunter, Cherubino is an extension of Count Almaviva, his “advance shadow”—like a personification of the Count’s own bad conscience, Cherubino is always already there wherever the Count is going, showing up early and getting in the way1 “Non so qual uom, qual demone, qual Dio rivolga tutto quanto a torto mio,” the Count raves in act 3: “What man, demon, or God turns everything against me?” For others, however, Cherubino already contains his own opposing force: “Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio,” he pleads: “I don’t know anymore what I am or what I’m doing.” Brigid Brophy goes so far as to imagine Cherubino’s radiating sexual energy detached from his body and knocking about the house like a “poltergeist.”2

Claus Guth’s production of Le nozze di Figaro for the 2006 Salzburg Festival seems to take Brophy at her word: Cherubino is presented literally as two beings at the same time. He is on one hand the alluring and obtrusive schoolboy, and on the other a thing that comes and goes at will through the walls of a dilapidated house. While Cherubino (Christine Schäfer) remains firmly rooted to the ground like the other characters onstage, his alter ego, “Cherub” (Uli Kirsch), behaves more like an invisible Peter Pan. Dressed exactly like Cherubino but with a protruding set of wings, Cherub is as unconfined by stage logic as he is by the laws of gravity, sailing out of high windows and leaping over balcony rails. His business is stalking the other characters in their most vulnerable moments. Like his mythological namesake, from the very beginning of this earthly show Cherub seems to control the course of events from on high. In addition to showing up at all the best (or, depending on how you look at it, worst) possible times, he has a knack for locking doors and blowing them open again to facilitate maximally inconvenient (and maximally entertaining) encounters. During the overture, Figaro, Susanna, the Count, the Countess, Bartolo, and Marcellina are ranged around the stage in frozen poses like wax dolls. Cherub, alighting at the window, strolls happily around the stage, grazing each character with the tips of his fingers. At his touch, each in turn blinks and begins slowly and somewhat robotically to rove around the stage. Figaro wiggles his [End Page 58] head, as though shaking off a deeply unpleasant dream, and then, not even fully awake, with arms outstretched begins nonsensically to measure the air.

Using nonsinging characters as a way “into” opera is not in itself a new idea. Hans Neuenfels’s 2000 staging of Nabucco at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper opened with a disoriented teenager in contemporary dress who stumbles onstage bearing a laptop computer. The presence of this young man, so obviously disconnected from the rest of the opera, and his journey from disorientation to participation, joins the story of the opera to a parallel story about a single individual’s journey toward “historical consciousness.”3 Much earlier, Joseph Losey’s 1979 film version of Don Giovanni included a mysterious “Valet in Black” who oversees the eponymous anti-hero’s exploits like a silent, hovering Mephistopheles—he is the materialization of Don Giovanni’s inner demon. Perhaps in a nod to Losey, Peter Sellars’s 1990 Don Giovanni included an androgynous child who beckons silently to Don Giovanni in the finale of act 2.4

Guth’s Cherub, however, exerts a different kind of control. In an illustrative moment during the finale of act 2, nearly the entire cast is present, ranged across the stage and spaced evenly apart in a neat horizontal row. Standing significantly upstage from the characters with his back to the audience, Cherub surveys the scene from the best seat in the house—at the footlights of the stage he can almost reach...


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