The Royal Opera – Le nozze di Figaro

Le nozze di Figaro – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte after La Folle journeé, 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 – Robert Lloyd
Marcellina – Ann Murray
Cherubino – Anna Bonitatibus
Count Almaviva – Peter Mattei
Don Basilio – Robin Leggate
Countess Almaviva – Barbara Frittoli
Antonia – Donald Maxwell
Don Curzio – Harry Nicoll
Barbarina – Kishani Jayasinghe
Bridesmaids – Glenys Groves & Kate McCarney

The Royal Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir Charles Mackerras

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

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 24 June, 2008
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Act I of the ROH's Le nozze di Figaro. ©Bill CooperDavid McVicar’s 2006 production of “Le nozze di Figaro” comes up freshly in this second revival – aided in part by having native Italians in three of the major roles, and also in having an unusually dark and charismatic portrayal of Count Almaviva. The original staging was conducted by Antonio Pappano and the first revival by Sir Colin Davis. Sir Charles Mackerras is now in the pit, so one could anticipate a musical performance full of insights and strong on ‘authenticity’ – particularly in decorations to the vocal lines. The orchestral sound was lean and sprightly, and the lower string passages that accompany so many of the ensembles were neatly touched in. The dynamic range was very wide indeed – the second verse of Cherubino’s ‘Voi che sapete’ was taken very quietly and held the audience absolutely rapt. Tempos were on the speedy side, particularly in the second act – sometimes almost recklessly so – especially when Susanna let Cherubino out of the Countess’s closet and leading up to his jump from the window, where the singers were almost struggling to keep Act III of the ROH's Le nozze di Figaro. ©Bill Coopertogether. There were some other interesting and unusual changes of tempo elsewhere – such as the relatively fast tempo Mackerras adopted as Susanna stepped out of the same closet some 5 minutes later – but it made the scene rather more amusing than it can be. As often with Mackerras there is much to learn and reassess, and the orchestra responded to well. Recitative was also sprightly and inventive.

McVicar’s production is clear and cogent and he brings out the political undertones as well, but all those servants listening constantly at doors and windows is overdone; there seems no door is opened without someone being caught eavesdropping behind it. Some of the settings are rather dark and sometimes impair the action – particularly those of the first act where Figaro and Susanna’s room is cluttered to the extent it seems to hamper the singers.

Peter Mattei as Count Almaviva. ©Bill Cooper Dominating the cast is the Count of Peter Mattei, making an extraordinarily late debut at The Royal given his distinguished international career. From Mattei the Count is a dangerous man to cross, someone used to getting his own way and capable of resorting to violence when he does not; it seemed that the reconciliation with the Countess at the end was only going to be temporary. The Count’s striking of her in Act Two was a truly shocking moment, and his presence around the other characters always seemed to bring palpable tension – quite rightly. Mattei has the advantage of height and he sings the role wonderfully; it is an interpretation full of nuance and sung in a suave yet dark and inky baritone.

Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Figaro and Aleksandra Kurzak as Susanna. ©Bill CooperPitched against such an imposing Count, the Figaro has to work doubly hard to make an impact. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo was suitably angry, and also mettlesome – and yet the general easy-going nature of the character shone through and provided an excellent foil. D’Arcangelo also sang well and his similarly dark voice assisted in bringing out the weighty aspects of the plot.

Anna Bonitatibus turned in a hugely enjoyable performance as Cherubino – capturing perfectly the lovesick adolescent in the grip of a major hormonal storm, and yet mixing youthful bravado and insecurity into something believable. ‘Non so più’ was slightly under-characterised but from then on the interpretation grew in stature – particularly the enchanting singing of ‘Voi che sapete’ and the character’s complete shock at the Count’s behaviour overheard from inside the cupboard.

Barbara Frittoli as Countess Almaviva. ©Bill CooperAleksandra Kurzak was an appealing Susanna, less mercurial than some and perhaps too lady-like in her demeanour and deportment. One never got the feeling that this Susanna had the wit to counter all the various changes of plot. That being said Kurzak sang with warm and rich tone, and in a pleasantly unfussy way – ‘Deh vieni’ was charming indeed. She blended and interacted well with Barbara Frittoli’s Countess, another performance that took a while to get going. ‘Porgi, amor’ lacked fluidity and words were a little indistinct – but it is such a hard aria to come to ‘cold’. Thereafter all was well and the vocalism and characterisation were full of beauty and detail; Frittoli’s vocal embellishments really stood out (for the right reasons). Despite having taken on heavier repertoire of late she remains an accomplished Mozartean.

In the smaller roles, generally older characters, were assembled some big names. Robert Lloyd was in generous voice as Dr Bartolo, and very amusing in the reconciliation scene. His patter in his Act One aria and in the finale of Act Two was perfectly delivered. Robin Leggate turned in a suitably oleaginous Basilio, and Ann Murray was a vituperative Marcellina who later softened her attitude (and voice) once she discovered her long lost son. It was a shame these latter two were deprived their arias in Act Four. Donald Maxwell made what one can of Antonio. Only Harry Nicoll’s slightly worn-sounding Don Curzio disappointed.

The overall balance of this cast makes for a great ensemble performance, the combination of Mattei’s authoritative Count and Mackerras’s detailed conducting making an evening to remember.

  • Performances on 27 & 30 June and 2, 8, 10, 16 & 19 July at 7 p.m.; and 5 & 12 July at 6.30 p.m.
  • David Syrus conducts the performances on 8 & 19 July and Sophie Koch sings Cherubino from 10 July
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera
  • The performance on Wednesday 16 July at 7 p.m. is broadcast live and free to Trafalgar Square, London; Canada Square Park, Canary Wharf; BP Chertsey Road, Sunbury; BP Duthie Park, Aberdeen; Lakeside, Thurrock; Botanic Gardens, Belfast; and Clayton Square, Liverpool
  • ROH BP Big Screens
  • Interview with Sir Charles Mackerras

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