OperaReviewSouth West

WNO: Figaro Gets a Divorce- Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Composer: Elena Langer
Librettist &Director: David Pountney
Reviewer:Karen Bussell

WNO celebrates Beaumarchais’ money-loving, conniving rogue in its episodic spring tour Figaro Forever where Rossini and Mozart’s classics are joined by the world premiere of Langer’s sequel.

In a dark departure from the frothy frivolity of Rossini and Mozart’s comic canters, director and librettist David Pountney and composer Elena Langer have created a dismal tale of despair and humanity set in a time of turmoil, deception and revolution.

Some 18 years after Figaro’s raucous wedding day, we reunite with the protagonists – the Count (Mark Stone), Countess (Elizabeth Watts), Figaro (David Stout) and Susanna (this time Marie Arnet) – now fleeing the Almaviva Castle under cover of darkness. With them are star-crossed lovers adolescent Serafin Almaviva (Naomi O’Connell) and the Count’s ward Angelika (Rhian Lois).

Drawing on Odon von Horvath’s play of the same name, Pountney’s vexed characters have aged with Susanna now broody, Figaro gloomy, the Count hell-bent on gambling away the family fortunes and the Countess rising to the challenge of poverty and blackmail. Cheeky Cherubino (Andrew Watts) is now a sleazeball and history looks set to repeat itself as Serafin is ordered to the frontline.

Puppet master extraordinaire is the ubiquitous one-man Mafia, the sinister Major, beautifully sung by Alan Oke who exudes menace and creates mayhem.

Langer has written specifically for certain singers, working with Arnet in mind from the outset. Scoring for the same instruments as Mozart, with the addition of an accordion, train whistle and flexatone, Langer conscientiously avoids any reference to Mozart or Rossini instead creating a dissonant piece with a smattering of leitmotif.

And this is where things get problematic: I’m afraid I just do not have the ear for dissonance or atonal music so for me most of the evening – I admit it – was something of a cacophony of discordant sound. But audience reaction was mixed with many declaring the piece ‘glorious’ and more. What apparently I am sadly just unable to hear, is the delight of the voices hovering and soaring above the colourful orchestral mood.

Ralph Koltai remains true to the tour’s theme of large screens moving around the stage, this time pushed by headpiece-wearing stage hands, appositely cordoning the action but often reflecting the behind the scenes scamper to position. Black and red revolution splashes, dowdy ripped wallpaper and crumbling shelves create a lavish hotel, seedy bar, dreary lodging, Bedlam and barber shop or loom closely to add to the pervading threat.

Escape by train, bike, camel and canoe (only to end up, tritely, back at Castle Almaviva) is depicted by projected drawings and an almost silent movie-like chaotic sequence in a strange departure from the otherwise sparse and clean lined choreography while the story, albeit, an allegory for humanity, really doesn’t quite add up. But it was a nice touch for the final escape to be through the wardrobe – complete with props and costumes from the previous two productions – that opened The Barber Of Seville at the start of the trilogy.

But with no Chorus and no bass, and nothing memorable to hum on the way home, one would imagine many left unfulfilled.

Reviewed on 7April 2016 | Image: Jeremy Abrahams

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