English Touring Opera at Sadler’s Wells – The Marriage of Figaro

Le nozze di Figaro – opera buffa in four acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte after Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais [Sung in an English translation by Michael Irwin]

Countess Almaviva – Laura Mitchell
Count Almaviva – Nicholas Lester
Figaro – Robert Davies
Susanna – Eliana Pretorian
Cherubino – Niamh Kelly
Bartolo – Andrew Slater
Don Basilio – Mark Wilde
Marcellina – Lise Christensen
Antonio – Henry Grant-Kerswell
Barbarina – Catrine Kirkman
Don Curzio – Benedict Quirke
First Bridesmaid – Emily Rowley-Jones
Second Bridesmaid – Abigail Kelly

Chorus & Orchestra of English Touring Opera
Michael Rosewell

James Conway – Director
Bernadette Iglich – Revival director
Agnes Treplin – Designer
Matt Haskins – Lighting designer

Reviewed by: Arnold Jarvist

Reviewed: 9 March, 2010
Venue: Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

Such is the all-embracing joy of “The Marriage of Figaro” that any opportunity to see it should be snapped up. The opera’s genius makes it almost impossible to stage badly (though a few directors have tried) – but a production as good as English Touring Opera’s is entirely self-recommending.

The cast is very strong, with an exceptionally tight-knit feeling of ensemble – so important in this opera. Nicholas Lester’s Count is a model of urbane menace, superbly sung. Laura Mitchell is a sympathetic Countess (although her makeup – white face, rouge lips – did her no favours).

Eliana Pretorian is a more demure Susanna than many, though with fiery passion not far below the surface: when she catches Figaro embracing Marcellina, she swings him a bruising punch on the jaw where most usually make do with a slap on the face. Pretorian’s attractive voice made impressively light work of Susanna’s demanding solos, and there was a genuinely touching rapport between her and her Figaro – played with an apt blend of geniality and youthful hotheadedness by Robert Davies.

Niamh Kelly’s Cherubino was delightfully sung and well-observed – a thoroughly plausible female-obsessed adolescent.

The Sadler’s Wells acoustic is not very helpful to singers. Some were more successful than others in projecting across the orchestra; among the best was Andrew Slater, a (mainly) wheelchair-bound Bartolo, every word of whose barnstorming ‘vengeance’ aria was crisp and clear. His comedic double-act with Lise Christensen’s unusually three-dimensional Marcellina was great fun. Mark Wilde was a deliciously preening Don Basilio. Pick of the excellent supporting cast was Catrine Kirkman’s creamy-voiced, bubbly Barbarina.

James Conway’s lively production, revived by Bernadette Iglich, is reassuringly traditional but full of smart original touches. The costumes look splendid, a cheeky little detail being the conspicuously bouffant dandified wigs. The late eighteenth-century Spanish colonial setting is wonderfully evoked through masterful lighting: early-morning sun streams through the slats in the vast Mediterranean-style blinds that adorn the windows in the Count’s home; the orange-hued arid late-afternoon turns the packed hall at Figaro and Susanna’s wedding party into a sauna – a vivid sense compounded by the cast taking off jackets and frantically fanning themselves.

Strikingly, we first see the Countess in silhouette against an emerald blue sky, standing on the balcony outside her bedroom; the exquisite ‘forgiveness’ ensemble at the end of the opera takes places, with great poignancy, as dawn slowly breaks. The combined effect of high emotion, sublime singing and breathtaking sun-rise is deeply moving.

No small amount of praise for the production’s success is due to Michael Rosewell, whose sure touch and well-judged tempos – especially in the great finale sequences of Acts Two and Four – ensure that the performance has sparkle and flow. He seems to have encouraged the cast to ornament where appropriate, which they do with engaging stylishness. The orchestra played superbly.

Frequently fun but always treating Mozart’s masterpiece with the seriousness it deserves, this ‘Figaro’ is sheer delight. Don’t miss it when ETO visits a town near you.

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