"Walter Felsenstein (1901–1975), founder and general director of the Komische Oper in Berlin, was one of the twentieth century’s greatest creative theatre directors, who played a hugely important role in the revival of opera as a theatrical art form. A brilliant artist who directed over 190 productions during the course of his career, he was equally committed to the works, their creators, the ensemble and the audience.
The Marriage of Figaro that received its premiere on 26 February 1975 in the Komische Oper Berlin was Walter Felsenstein’s last production and in many respects can be regarded as representing his legacy. Having just returned from directing a guest production at Vienna’s Burgtheater, Felsenstein had been working on Figaro since early February 1974. He had already directed three productions of the work – in 1934 in Cologne, in 1942 at the Salzburg Festival and in 1950 at the Komische Oper. For the latter production, he had used earlier translations as the basis for producing a new text version, but he now decided that this was inadequate, as he had reached the conclusion that from the point of view of both form and expression, rhyme was crucial at many points in the musical numbers. He also wanted to further fine-tune the formulation of the text – putting the emphasis on the sense rather than word-for-word equivalence (which was, in any case, impossible). For a 74-year-old, Felsenstein had a punishing work schedule. In addition to working on Figaro (translating the libretto, analysing the pieces with the conductor, working on the overall concept, holding discussions with the set and costume designers), he also had to find time for his work as General Director, for congresses, for a guest production of Bluebeard and for many other duties. His principle was, “always to start from the beginning again, to try to reach an understanding of the text and the music as though they had never before been interpreted or ‘understood’. I call it ‘taking the work literally’. And it is above all the music that has to be taken literally.” Thus he tried to approach even his fourth production of the work in a spirit of ‘naivety’, while, at the same time, benefiting from the experience gained with his previous productions. With inexorable meticulousness, Felsenstein pored over the opera, consulting its roots in the works of Beaumarchais and Paisiello (The Barber of Seville) in order to be able to understand the relationship between the characters in Mozart’s work."