Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte
Conductor: Jonathan Cohen
Director: Michael Grandage, revived by Ian Rutherford
Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree
The Glyndebourne Tour, which aims to bring both world-class, affordable opera to the masses, as well as to support young artists, is an institution in itself, but it has never before been to Canterbury. Judging by last night’s sell-out performance of Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ the people of the south-east were delighted to welcome such a prestigious company. If anyone is still looking for justification for the rebuild of the Marlowe; surely, this is it.
Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ is a classic. It’s also pretty long, but Michael Grandage’s production is subtly brought up-to-date and zips along at an impressive pace. It looks glorious too: designer Christopher Oram’s set seems at first glance like a sumptuous Spanish palace, with Andalusian tiling and ornate lanterns, but then one notices the carefully placed retro furniture and the floppy, wide-brimmed hat. If in any doubt of the decade, the mustard-coloured shirt, flairs and side-burns of Count Almaviva confirm that we are, indeed, in the swinging sixties, the decade of free love.
Otherwise known as ‘The madness of one day’, the plot of Figaro twists and turns constantly, but at its heart is a class struggle between the servants Susanna and Figaro (Anna Devin and Guido Loconsolo) and Count Almaviva (John Moore) who, while constantly looking to play around with most female members of his household, is still racked with jealousy and mistrust of his long-suffering and neglected wife, the Countess (Layla Claire).
Politically, Mozart and his librettist, da Ponte, were taking a bit of a risk when adapting Beaumarchais’ play, but they got away with it through some finely-tuned moments of comedy: cross-dressing; mistaken identity; plots to thwart one character swiftly hijacked by another, to name a few. With the increasingly complicated plot, of course, comes Mozart’s layered music, as characters enter in and out of dialogue, all battling with their own emotions and agendas. Only in opera can characters develop by ‘talking’ over each other, and nobody does this better than Mozart.
The young cast is energetic and, men in particular, revel in the theme of the 60s. John Moore has an undeniable swagger as the lascivious Count, timing his facial gestures to perfection. So too, do Daniel Norman as the slightly shady Don Basilio, and Andrew Slater as Bartolo. Kathryn Rudge as Cherubino, the love-sick young boy (he’s called worse in the surtitles), balances awkwardness and desire with real comedy timing, and Guido Loconsolo’s Figaro is commanding from the outset. Holding the moral high-ground are the Countess and her maidservant, Susanna, and Layla Claire and Anna Devin work extremely well together. Claire’s anguish at her neglect is plain to see, although there was a slight tousle in her second aria ‘Dove sono’ where conductor Jonathan Cohen had to do some swift adjusting. Even with a lack of solo arias, Devin is a definite lynch-pin in this production; solid and unflappable, both vocally and in character.
Overall, a clever, spirited and subtly up-dated production for a modern audience. Thoroughly recommended.
Runs until 24 November 2012 and then tours