The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Hampstead Garden Opera

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

From 08 November 2013 to 17 November 2013

Review by Louise Lewis

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Hampstead Garden Opera swept up the ‘Offie’ (Off West End Theatre Award) for best opera with its 2012 production of Cosi Fan Tutte. Does this latest Mozart offering The Marriage of Figaro compare?

Mozart's Figaro is a long show, and with very little cut you do become aware of aching buttocks squeezed onto the tiny seats at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Luckily, director Bruno Ravella has kept the comedy fresh, and plenty of laughs help keep the piece rolling along.

The grungy pub theatre is transformed with a clever vine design by Holly Seager, which drapes around the black box studio and forms a pergola effect over the orchestra. With huge paintings and period furniture, there’s opulence to the Count’s abode, although the scene changes could be slicker. The house is centred around a pair of double doors and a giant window, enabling the farcical effects of Don Basilio, the Count and Cherubino constantly popping up where they're least wanted.

It is Susanna and Figaro's wedding day, and both are attendants to the Count and Countess Almaviva. The Count is attempting to reinstate an old law allowing him to bed Susanna on her wedding night, and so the plotting commences as both parties attempt to outwit the other.

There are certainly no crimes to opera, but the mixed bag of abilities on stage means the production varies from gleefully funny to feeling quite stuffy. Amongst a number of young singers with exciting voices and great characterisation, it is the chocolate-voiced Count (Jon Stainsby) and Susanna (Julie Moote) who shine. Moote has a voice that lends itself to the Mozart repertoire, and is charmingly charismatic when attempting to outwit Stainsby’s determined advances.

Ravella’s direction has encouraged very believable relationships between characters. Susanna and Figaro (Milo Harries) have a great chemistry and Cherubino (Felicity Turner) has just the right balance between a young mans swagger and confused teenager. Unfortunately the Countess (Jessica Gillingwater) is rather drippy, and her excellent voice is overly constrained throughout the recit preventing much use of the text, but Gillingwater does deliver a sublime rendition of the famous letter duet.

The orchestra is one of the highlights of the night, a rare treat to see a fringe opera with more than three instruments. Their lightness of touch is sympathetic to the young voices, but with an underlying fizz which keeps Mozart's music so exciting.

This rendition makes for a great evening of entertainment, and spotlights some surely future stars, if not quite 'Offies'-worthy this time.