Guildhall School Opera – The Marriage of Figaro

Le nozze di Figaro [Sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Figaro – Philip Spendley
Susanna – Milda Smalakyte
Doctor Bartolo – Philip Gerrard
Marcellina – Rebecca Raffell
Cherubino – Tania Mandzy
Count Almaviva – Nicholas Merryweather
Don Basilio – Gareth Huw John
Countess Almaviva – Sophie Angebault
Antonio – Nicholas Morris
Don Curzio – Brahi Bergthórsson
Barbarina – Daire Halpin
Bridesmaids – Cassandra White & Rebecca Afonwy Jones

Guildhall Orchestra
David Angus

John Fulljames – Director
Conor Murphy – Designer
Giuseppe Di Iorio – Lighting designer
Victoria Newlyn – Choreographer

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 1 March, 2007
Venue: Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London

Mozart’s masterpiece is a challenge for the most accomplished singers, so it’s a brave move by the Guildhall Opera School to stage a student production. Director John Fulljames, whose recent productions have included witty and moving work with Jonathan Dove at the refurbished Young Vic, recently praised the Guildhall students – singers, orchestra and backstage – for their skill and enthusiasm, and he draws excellent work from them.

Fulljames’s production transfers the action to an unspecified Eastern European location in the 1980s. Social instability is reflected in the crazy tilt of Count Almaviva’s gimcrack palace; the first three acts take place in this anonymous space, all faux-marble and white sofas. The overture sees the palace workers racing into Figaro and Susanna’s would-be bedroom from their night out, frantically flinging on their work clothes, and this sets the pace for the evening: Mozart played as high-pitched bedroom farce, fuelled by the healthy ridicule of the workers for their nouveau-riche employers.

The cast not only sang beautifully; called upon to sustain the comic mayhem, the singers acted their socks off. Philip Spendley excelled as a smooth, upwardly-mobile Figaro in ponytail and frilly shirt, more than a match for Nicholas Merryweather’s bullying, medallion-man Count. Best of all was Milda Smalakyte’s crystal-voiced Susanna, running rings around both. These enjoyable comic turns reached a peak with the sublime conclusion to Act Tow, which was beautifully timed.

However, this was Mozart with little room for the luxury of sentiment. As if to counter the comic excesses of the plot, the backdrop was hard and cruel. The sexual entreaties had a desperate urgency, with little in the way of subtlety; this had the unfortunate effect of reducing Cherubino to a sex-pest goosing the Countess in the garden, and led to an overkill of distracting stage ‘business’. As the Countess Almaviva, Sophie Angebault brought the only real moments of reflection, haunted by visions of her own wedding day, which the audience sees as video projections – an unsubtle device perhaps, but given potency by Angebault’s emotional gravitas and richness of tone.

Musically the standard was high: David Angus kept the pace up, despite a couple of lapses of communication with the chorus, and the orchestral playing was excellent. The GSMD Theatre’s clear acoustic meant that the singers’ young voices could carry without strain, and Smalakyte sounded like a star in the making. Yet ultimately the evening’s mixture of comedy and cruelty failed to ignite.

  • Further performances on 3, 5 & 7 March
  • Tickets from Barbican Box Office – 0845 120 7500
  • GSMD

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