Le nozze di Figaro – Opera buffa in four acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte after the comedy La folle journée, ou Le mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais [sung in Italian with English surtitles]
Figaro – Vito Priante
Susanna – Lydia Teuscher
Countess Almaviva – Sally Matthews
Count Almaviva – Audun Iversen
Dr Bartolo – Andrew Shore
Marcellina – Ann Murray
Cherubino – Isabel Leonard
Don Basilio – Alan Oke
Antonio – Nicholas Folwell
Don Curzio – Colin Judson
Barbarina – Sarah Shafer
The Glyndebourne Chorus
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Michael Grandage – Director
Christopher Oram – Designer
Paule Constable – Lighting designer
Ben Wright – Movement director
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 27 June, 2012
Venue: Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes, East Sussex, England
This new production of Le nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne is a keenly anticipated event (this was Glyndebourne’s very first opera, back in 1934). Its latest director is the in-demand Michael Grandage, who made his operatic debut here two years ago with a much-praised Billy Budd. Since then he has worked at Houston Grand Opera (Madama Butterfly) and the Metropolitan Opera in New York (Don Giovanni). Indeed, such is the relationship between Grandage and these institutions that this Figaro production is a co-venture between them. In a previous life he was an actor and then, for about fifteen years, a stage director, notably at the Donmar.
The staging (with lush designs by Christopher Oram) works very well indeed. The curtain rises and reveals the front of a large villa in Seville (setting the scene while the Overture is played), and then revolves to reveal the room that Figaro is measuring for his marriage bed. For Act Two we are in the Countess’s bedroom (with a single bed – as in the original – but this is no longer an upper-class Almaviva residence). After the long interval (for picnicking purposes) Act Three’s hall has two sun chairs and a large space for comings-and-goings, and then an exquisite garden scene appears for Act Four, replete with plenty of hiding places and an ornamental pond – all very beautiful.
The characters that populate this large house are dressed in 1970s’ gear, the aristocrats in gear more akin to the hippie generation, or the day-wear of porn-actors. Indeed, as the evening developed, one sensed that this was a mock-villa buried in California where such films might be made, the house being the ‘exotic’ set, which is the directorial failing of the production.
However, the idea of the Count exacting his droit du seigneur from his chambermaid before her wedding day in this setting is appropriate if this is a hippies’ swingers-party. All the company are equals. At no point did one feel the revolutionary aspects of Beaumarchais’s original play: here, the fact that the servants run rings around the masters went for nothing other than for being slightly amusing, and at no point are the murkier aspects of this opera buffa explored – this is Noël Coward country-dwelling comedy instead.
The Almavivas’ interactions with Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s servants are not reflected here: everything is far too chummy, and exactly who all these people are is never made clear. The libretto is straightforward enough, but direction and ideas are lacking: role-reversal is inconsistent and misplaced. In the 1970s the lady of a house such as this would certainly not sleep alone. However, the meaning of the libretto comes across exceptionally well through the characters’ style and the singers’ delivery, making the surtitles not necessary if of course useful – Grandage is to be congratulated for this, a rare feat indeed these days when too much reliance on the viewable words diminishes characterisation.
Much praise for Paule Constable’s lighting. Often the set is bathed in beautiful and disarming glows: the opening is clearly morning, daylight streaming into the Countess’s bedroom as she gazes out of her window, and the night-time assignations of Act Four are mysterious. For this “day of madness”, the illumination revealed much.
Vito Priante is a fun Figaro. He relished the scheming and was never an oaf but a caring husband-to-be. He sang firmly and with verve. The Susanna of Lydia Teuscher is a timid portrayal though, never believably the first lady, just rather lucky. Audun Iversen’s Count didn’t catch fire: true, this is a difficult role to pull off, but the character’s boorish manner was overplayed, with more than a hint of hysterical camp. In terms of voice, his baritone lies too high: as such he is an excellent Onegin. His dutiful wife was well-acted by Sally Matthews bringing out the world-weary charm that the Countess should have, but sitting uneasily in this modern setting. The pairing forged by Ann Murray’s Marcellina and Andrew Shore’s Dr Bartolo was terrific: the former determined without being over the top, the latter investing every nuance with gruffness and a hint of humility. Their discovery that Figaro is their illegitimate son and then their own union is tenderly done: a great moment.
The standout performance is the lovable Cherubino of Isabel Leonard: she not only looked the part, but the woman-playing-a-man-playing-a-woman sequence (in the Countess’s bedroom) is a hoot of comic timing. ‘Voi che sapete’ was beautifully delivered. Alan Oke (Basilio) was suitably slimy as the music teacher, his sung words dripping with duplicitous overtones – delicious!
Robin Ticciati, who succeeds Vladimir Jurowski from January 2014 as Glyndebourne’s Music Director, led a spirited account of the score, crafting superb playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. But, for all the exquisite execution, there was some neglecting of the singers. Overall this is an enjoyable staging, beautiful to look at, and mostly a sublime listen.