Royal College of Music – Le nozze di Figaro

Le nozze de Figaro – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte after La Folle Journée ou Le Mariage de Figaro by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Figaro – Bradley Travis
Susanna – Filipa van Eck
Marcellina – Hannah Sandison
Dr Bartolo – Pnini Grubner
Cherubino – Emilie Renard
Count Almaviva – Morgan Pearse
Basilio – Vasili Karpiak
Countess Almaviva – Abigail Mitchell
Barbarino – Anna Anandarajah
Antonio – Bragi Jonsson
Don Curzio – Simon Gilkes

Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra
Michael Rosewell

Jean-Claude Auvray – Director
Ruari Murchison – Designer
Mark Doubleday – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 30 June, 2012
Venue: Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London

Act Two finale, Le nozze di Figaro, Royal College of Music, June 2012. Photograph: Chris ChristodoulouThe Royal College of Music’s opera school rounds off its year with this cracking staging of Mozart’s unassailable masterpiece. The RCM’s baroque-style Britten Theatre and Jean-Claude Auvray’s production suit the opera’s tight plot and intrigue like a glove, so that no detail goes unmarked. Ruari Murchison’s set – three plain white cubes that fit into each other to be raised or lowered for the various interiors, with four sliding panels at the front on which the title of the opera in Mozart’s autograph is writ large – set-up the opera as a self-contained artwork.

There was a lot of business with cast members making their entrances through the stalls, the significance of which was unclear, something of a directorial cliché and hard to justify. Perhaps it was to make the point that those of the cast – Figaro, Susanna, Bartolo, Marcellina – were there to penetrate the fourth wall, as it were, and fertilise the drama with all those elements of social, sexual and emotional upheaval that we know and love. At the end, the four panels slid shut, marooning the players at the front of the stage.

Bradley Travis as Figaro & Filipa van Eck as Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro, Royal College of Music, June 2012). Photograph: Chris ChristodoulouI have a resistance to this blurring of stage and auditorium boundaries, especially when it only underscores what is already obvious in the drama, to plonking effect in Figaro’s Act Four aria, when the house lights came up. Apart from that one, admittedly fairly major, misgiving, the set works extremely well, and succinctly makes the point that Palazzo Almaviva is a house with many mansions and secret places. Murchison’s costumes are eighteenth-century, with a hint of the Spanish, and Auvray’s direction of the cast for the most part is exemplary.

As regards the singers, there wasn’t a weak link in this Cast B, and they reminded you that some of the singers in the opera’s 1786 premiere were just as young. The overall impression was the extent to which the cast was completely unfazed by and on top of Mozart’s demands. Bradley Travis’s Figaro had a lightness of touch coupled with graceful, unaffected singing and acting. His Susanna was played with the same level of energy, warmth and assurance by Filipa van Eck, whose affectionate portrayal, like Travis’s Figaro, has star quality. They both held the stage with mutual chemistry infectious intensity.

Hannah Sandison as Marcellina, Pnini Grubner as Dr. Bartolo & Vasili Karpiak as Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro, Royal College of Music, June 2012). Photograph: Chris ChristodoulouThe Count was played with impressive range and imagination by Morgan Pearse, a mere 23 years old, according to his biography. In a traditional staging such as this, he could have been more aloof to all the scheming in Act One, but thereafter he established the Count’s entrapment between authority, priapism and baffled exasperation with singular ease, wisely playing down the role’s buffo element – and his singing was a joy. More star quality.

As the Countess, Abigail Mitchell deftly made her dependence on Susanna clear, although Figaro, just as deftly, correctly deferred to her. Her ‘Porgi amor’ introduced its shadow with heartbreaking truth, although there were moments when the direction didn’t make enough of her. Cherubino received a ferrety, lascivious performance from Emilie Renard, breathlessly tumescent in a tremblingly poised ‘Non so più’ and, like the Count, convincingly in the grip of sexual urgency. Hannah Sandison and Pnini Grubner sparked off each other as Marcellina and Bartolo, and, given that he didn’t get that much to do after Act One, Vasily Karpiak’s Basilio was a masterpiece of innuendo, a scene-stealing performance.

Michael Rosewell’s conducting has the measure of this febrile score, achieving resolution at the same time as moving on to the next thing. The orchestra responded with lithe, highly characterful playing.

This is a Figaro that presses all the right buttons – exuberance, a damp eye and wicked humour.

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