The Royal Opera – Le nozze di Figaro [Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Aleksandra Kurzak, Lucas Meachem, Rachel Willis-Sørensen; conducted by Antonio Pappano]

Le nozze di Figaro – Opera buffa in four acts to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte after the comedy La folle journé, ou Le mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Figaro – Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Susanna – Aleksandra Kurzak
Dr Bartolo – Carlo Lepore
Marcellina – Ann Murray
Cherubino – Anna Bonitatibus
Count Almaviva – Lucas Meachem
Don Basilio – Bonaventura Bottone
Countess Almaviva – Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Antonio – Jeremy White
Don Curzio – Harry Nicoll
Barbarina – Susana Gaspar
Bridesmaids – Melissa Alder & Louise Armit

Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir Antonio Pappano

David McVicar – Director
Leah Hausman – Revival director & Movement director
Tanya McCallin – Designs
Paule Constable – Lighting

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 11 February, 2012
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Figaro, Lucas Meachem as Count Almaviva & Bonaventura Bottone as Don Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro, The Royal Opera, February 2012). Photograph: Bill CooperThe final instalment of The Royal Opera’s Mozart-Da Ponte cycle is this fourth revival of David McVicar’s 2006 production of Le nozze di Figaro, the setting of which is in the 1830s, and featuring realistic and somewhat scruffy designs by Tanya McCallin, which successfully convey the revolutionary feel of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’s text: the way in which the aristocracy are controlled by their servants is what made the original play such dynamite, and is what McVicar, and revival director Leah Hausman, manage so successfully. Transitions between Acts are accomplished, and particularly effective is the transformation from Act Three’s ballroom to Act Four’s garden, the lighting of which evokes darkness and treachery. Of the singers, particularly well acted was the Count of Lucas Meachem: often at his wits end, he was indeed the victim – not only of his servants but also of his wife’s machinations.

Aleksandra Kurzak as Susanna & Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro, The Royal Opera, February 2012). Photograph: Bill CooperReturning to conduct since he gave this production’s premiere (Sir Colin Davis and the late Sir Charles Mackerras have also officiated), Sir Antonio Pappano led a spirited account of the score, and also gave impressive accompaniment to the recitatives on the harpsichord. Orchestral textures were airy and a light momentum kept the action’s pacing even and natural. The ROH Orchestra was on top form, and Sir Antonio’s affinity with singers allowed them to shine: a complete pleasure.

Also returning as timid Susanna is Aleksandra Kurzak, who also gave her a feisty heart when it mattered. Her singing was warm and poetic. Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s was a notable debut: her Countess commanded the stage, and ‘Dove sono i bei momenti’ was sensational, full of longing and regret, yet tinged with hope. Her entry (‘Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro’) in Act Two was beautifully done.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen as the Countess & Lucas Meachem as Count Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro, The Royal Opera, February 2012). Photograph: Bill CooperIldebrando D’Arcangelo is an experienced Figaro, and his native Italian brought many pleasures, as did his easy-going, affable and unflustered nature. His handling of the confused Count in the Countess’s bedchamber was hilarious, and whilst Figaro is on the receiving end of deceit, D’Arcangelo maintained Figaro’s composure, never hinting at nastiness, with only his seductively dark bass-baritone suggesting his prowess. Pitted against him was American Lucas Meachem, an imposing stage presence as Count Almaviva. Given that events rule him, the Count is left feeling inadequate during this “day of madness”, a situation that Meachem never rose above despite some amusing moments of despair notwithstanding.

Anna Bonitatibus threw herself into the role of the lovesick Cherubino, relishing his scrapes; yet for all the hilarity the normally supreme moment of ‘Voi che sapete’ lacked its long-breathed warmth. The smaller roles were all cast from excellence: Anne Murray was a defiant Marcellina, who softened wonderfully later, and Carlo Lepore’s Bartolo (Marcellina’s former lover, it transpires) was played for the requisite laughs. Generous singing was also on offer from Bonaventura Bottone as Don Basilio, who turned in some exquisite sneering with Susanna in Act One. The busy gardener Antonio had Jeremy White throw-in his usual scene-stealing appearance.

This is a superb evening of high-class entertainment.

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