Note: This is a review of the performance on Saturday 29th July 2023.
I feel obliged to preface what follows with a few caveats. First, I am very much in a minority in not being overwhelmed by this production (though my partner was in agreement) both as regards the critics and the rest of the audience at the performance I attended if the applause for Barrie Kosky's appearance was any guide. Second, I've seen a few Kosky productions over the years (usually in Edinburgh) and I can't think of a single one that really blew me away compared to his unstaged concerts of Yiddish opera and Weill. Third, I was very tired. Nevertheless I have to come back to this - the previous occasion I saw this opera live, the Royal Opera House/Robert Carsen production (reviewed here) - I found it overwhelmingly powerful. This performance, for me, did not achieve a similar punch.
My first issue was designer Katrin Lea Tag's set. It's a roughly triangular room, the white walls oddly stippled, and with a single narrow entrance/exit at the rear. This has to serve as the Marquis's house, all of the various rooms in the convent, and the execution space at the conclusion. I never really felt I had a concrete sense of where we were supposed to be, despite the period costumes of the opening scene. Having, for about two thirds of the show, only the single point of access at the back coupled with the closed in nature of the rest of the set should create the claustrophobic atmosphere the work needs, but I can only say I found it much less effective in this regard than the Carsen production where so much of that effect was achieved by the bodies of the mob - with a consequent much greater sense of their threat. That one point of access also makes set changes, despite the minimal amount of set, cumbersome to achieve (though I think a factor here may also be Kosky's determination to slow down the action which we'll come back to). After the interval (spoilers) one of the walls is breached. Others in my party found this an enormously effective coup de theatre but again I found the mob here, despite the spitting and physical violence, less threatening than I recall it in the Carsen production. There are also smaller annoyances, the (presumably) blood trickling down the wall in the first half I thought excessive, the production of the flowers from under one of the walls cumbersome.