The Royal Opera – Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro [Luca Pisaroni, Lucy Crowe, Maria Bengtsson, Christopher Maltman; directed by David McVicar; conducted by John Eliot Gardiner]

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 – Luca Pisaroni
Susanna – Lucy Crowe
Bartolo – Carlos Chausson
Marcellina – Helene Schneiderman
Cherubino – Renata Pokupić
Don Basilio – Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Countess Almaviva – Maria Bengtsson
Count Almaviva – Christopher Maltman
Antonio – Lynton Black
Don Curzio – Alasdair Elliott
Barbarina – Mary Bevan

Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Sir David McVicar – Director
Tanya McCallin – Designer
Paule Constable – Lighting Designer
Leah Hausman – Movement Director

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 16 September, 2013
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Crowe as Susanna & Pisaroni as Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro, The Royal Opera, September 2013). Photograph: DouetThe Marriage of Figaro is one of the sunniest of operas, a sense compounded for many of us thanks to pleasurable associations with summer opera festivals. With the days now shortening and turning colder, however, the Royal Opera House’s timely revival of David McVicar’s autumnal production is emphatic proof of the season-less treasures of Mozart’s masterpiece. With fading light struggling through the windows into Almaviva Castle and brown leaves falling sympathetically in the garden during the final Act, McVicar conjures a world sensitively attuned to the opera’s universal humanity.

Set in 1830, with impressively palatial sets by Tanya McCallin, McVicar’s 2006 production returns as engaging and lively as ever – full of illuminating, innovative touches, but never gratuitously radical. It’s a tale about real people – and there are always lots of folk in this bustling household. Figaro and Susanna are just two of many servants, cleaning windows, sweeping floors, gossiping and listening at doors. Most importantly, for an opera whose intricate plot often moves at breakneck speed, McVicar tells the story with marvellously clear narrative.

This time around the score is brought alive with brilliant immediacy by John Eliot Gardiner. Without lingering over-indulgently in the ‘slow’ arias – the Countess’s ‘Dove sono’ is refreshingly agile, and all the more moving for it – Gardiner demonstrates an innate sense of pacing, masterfully conveying both exquisite tenderness and frenetic, effervescent humour. He encourages the Orchestra’s strings to play without vibrato, with effective results (a scrawny introduction to ‘Porgi amor’ notwithstanding), and natural horns and trumpets and period timpani provide terrific vibrancy and bite.

It’s a strong cast, too. With his tall, dark, handsome looks and rich baritone voice, Luca Pisaroni plays the title role with an appropriately youthful air, but also maturity and influence – while others bow deeply before the Count, he can barely bring himself to nod his head. Lucy Crowe’s Susanna is consistently well-sung – the often-fudged coloratura stand-out at the climax of the Act Two finale rang out with great clarity. Her silvery voice does lack the individual distinctiveness of the role’s greatest interpreters, however, and her stage presence leans towards comedy bluster rather than the solid, omnipresent brains of the operation which Mozart and Da Ponte surely intended.

Bengtsson as Countess Almaviva & Christopher Maltman as Count Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro, The Royal Opera, September 2013). Photograph: DouetAlso youthful, blonde and fiery, Maria Bengtsson’s Countess closely resembles Crowe’s Susanna in appearance – a serendipitous pairing that highlights the equality of the two characters in all but social station. Bengtsson’s creamy voice has great depth; her ‘Dove sono’ proved captivating. Christopher Maltman is an angry, arrogant Count. Tramping into the Countess’s bedroom, gun in hand fresh from the hunt, he slings a couple of dead pheasants onto her bed. Later in Act Two he hurls an axe at the floor and, shockingly, slaps his wife in the face – this is a man who is used to his authority being unchallenged, and finds it impossible to deal with the rising egalitarian mood of the times. Yet, remarkably, he is not a monster – his plea for forgiveness in the dénouement feels sincere, giving the impression that he is now capable of change.

Renata Pokupić is a believably boyish Cherubino but, despite an attractive voice, the character’s arias both disappointed: ‘Non so più’ is marred by peculiar emphases (possibly at Gardiner’s instruction) and ‘Voi che sapete’ lacked melodic line. The supporting members of the cast are all excellently portrayed, but Alasdair Elliott’s Don Curzio deserves to be singled out for his delightfully fluent, clear and sensitive decorative line in the Act Three sextet, usually lost in the mellee or bleated out painfully.

McVicar is rather cavalier with his re-ordering of numbers in Acts Three and Four (it is surprising that Gardiner agreed to these, especially as the swapping around of Susanna’s and Figaro’s respective final-Act arias results in some ingongruous lurches) but these are exceptions in a highly enjoyable production which has more intergrity than many.

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