Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte
Adaptation/Director: John Savournin
While a splendid production of The Marriage of Figaro (some three hours of stage time) is running at Leeds Grand, the same company, Opera North, is touring a 45-minute version round cafes, schools, bars and the occasional theatre. Of course it’s a lesser affair (literally, given that it discards 75% of the music and the action), but on its own, highly enjoyable terms it works equally well.
On the surface a theatre such as the Lawrence Batley is not ideal for a production that is predicated on the principle of informally meeting the audience half-way, but it worked. Part of the audience was seated on stage at tables that hinted at a cafe setting, the rest sat in a few rows on a level with the stage, so that characters moved through the audience making their individual points in the ensembles and the Countess’ sudden unexpected notes of forgiveness were delivered from a seat in Row B.
One of the reasons for the success of this Whistle Stop Figaro is that it’s not a “best bits” compilation. John Savournin’s clever adaptation basically tells the story of Figaro and Susanna’s wedding, with the Count’s attempted restoration of the droit de seigneur and Figaro, Susanna and the Countess outwitting him and humiliating him as he deserves. The Bartolo/Marcellina/Basilio plot disappears, as (almost entirely) does Cherubino. An audience member stands in silently for him (though, at Huddersfield, the young man seemed to be tempted to join in more completely) while Susanna and the Countess dress him as a girl. Cherubino’s famous aria, Voi che sapete, survives only as the gentle instrumental accompaniment to the dressing up.
Generally, Savournin follows Mozart and Da Ponte’s ordering of the musical numbers, but by no means entirely. The four singers burst on to sing in praise of the Count (music taken from Act 3), so – no messing! – we know exactly what the social pecking order is before Figaro starts measuring up their bedroom and Susanna explains what an idiot he is to be unaware of the Count’s amorous intentions towards his bride. Savournin foregrounds what many productions hint at: never mind Figaro or the Countess, Susanna is running the show! Figaro’s aria of opposition to the Count, Si vuol ballare, ends with her sharing his determination to call the tune and as a finale, in place of a generic expression of good will, she expresses her devotion to Figaro and they marry.
In an odd way there are some features that improve on a main stage full-length Figaro, notably the huge effect that unamplified operatic voices make at close range. The individual lines in ensembles emerge more clearly, though of course the great Act 2 ensembles need more than four voices. Act 4 gets a sharper focus than sometimes on stage and the sublime music of forgiveness and reconciliation is as moving as ever.
Musical standards are excellent. Milos Milivojevic’s transcription for accordion is subtly effective, warm, harmonically rich. Alison Rose brings real authority to Susanna and Peter Edge’s energetic and engaging Figaro is the perfect foil. Lizzie Karani, shorn of one of the Countess’ two great arias, makes the most of the other, Porgi amor, and Themba Mvula sings elegantly and preens convincingly as the Count.
On Tour Until 7th March 2020