Tuesday, April 23

The Marriage of Figaro – Royal Opera House

Mozart’s classic four-act comic opera, an adaptation with Da Ponte of Beaumarchais’ banned 1778 play about warring masters and servants, is delightfully brought to life in director David McVicar’s own revival of his 2006 production, again conducted by Antonio Pappano, of this satirical and deeply human drama.

As the day of Figaro (Riccardo Fassi) and Susanna’s (Giulia Semenzato) wedding arrives, it becomes clear that their master, Count Almaviva (Davide Luciano), is keen to exercise his ‘droit du seigneur’ – his right to bed a servant girl on her wedding night – and they conspire with the forsaken Countess (Federica Lombardi) to outwit her husband and teach him a lesson in fidelity. Plans however are thrown awry when Bartolo (Henry Waddington), seeking revenge against Figaro for thwarting his own earlier plans to marry Rosalina, tries to force Figaro to marry Marcellina (Monica Bacelli), a woman old enough to be his mother, much to the amusement of Don Basilio (Gregory Bonfatti). As if things couldn’t get any worse, the amorous teenager Cherubino (Hanna Hipp) pitches up infatuated by anything in a skirt, followed by the young Barbarina (Helen Withers) who is equally infatuated with him. Throw in a drunken gardener (Jeremy White), Don Curzio (Alasdair Elliot), a couple of bridesmaids (Kathryn Jenkin; Miranda Westcott) and The Royal Opera Chorus, and what follows is a myriad of twists and turns as deception counters scheming and misunderstandings foil conspiracies as the plot delightfully unravels.

Whilst it may seem unusual to revive your own production, McVicar has made much of the youth of the wholly Italian main cast to fashion a new creative response which by and large works. Tanya McCallin’s set design with lighting from Paule Constable is visually impressive and magnificent in stature with seamless scene changes cleverly undertaken, and equally managed by Movement Director Leah Hausman’s expert choreography. The devil is in the detail and this production exudes it from well-timed slaps through to the exasperation at trying to operate some scientific equipment and the standout, to me, when Suzanna takes a box from the table to stand on as she is noticeably shorter than the Countess she is impersonating.

This attention to detail demonstrates just how much the creative team care, and this is further evident with Pappano who is undoubtedly the master of all he surveys and conveys, and he inspired the orchestra and singers alike to blend perfectly together, the result of which was a delight to listen to.

All the cast performed strongly with Luciano finding the perfect melodramatic balance as the villainous Count, a role that can often run away from a performer, whilst Fassi’s acting prowess caught up with his singing by the second half of the evening when he seemed more settled in the role. Hipp brought the necessary humour as the young buck who is ultimately ensnared by Withers wily Barbarina, whilst Lombardi’s statuesque Countess exuded dignity and sung beautifully, her voice rich with emotion, and her rendition of the famous Sull’aria with Semenzato was sublime.

Whilst the lack of an obvious chemistry at times between the quartet was perhaps reflective of their younger years, ultimately the success or failure of Mozart’s divine comedy is determined by its Susanna and here with Semenzato it was truly in safe hands as she sang beautifully whilst handling the many demands of the role as she balanced mischief and melody with knowing looks and comic touches.

This production was screened worldwide as part of ROH Live. Further details of this and upcoming productions is available at https://www.roh.org.uk/

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 27th April 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★