The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
English National Opera
The Coliseum
(2007)

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The return of Olivia Fuchs’ witty production of Mozart’s famous tilt at Viennese society, The Marriage of Figaro, is a timely opportunity for any newcomer with an inclination for their first dip into operatic waters.

Tuneful, seriously well sung and bristling with lustful exchanges among young folk who plainly cannot keep their hands to themselves, this work from the 30 year old musical Wunderkind as now dressed by ENO is tailor-made for audiences who have long thought about opera but lacked the confidence to jump in to anything more than The Sound of Music or a new singer’s grand tour at the Albert Hall!

It is certainly not the purist’s delight. Far too fussy, and even whimsical, for that. Flowers not so much decorate as obliterate the front stage – so much so that the overture perambulations of extra domestics resemble Gosford Park on a summer open day.

And costumes are much too informal for the connoisseur. After all, this might be London rather than Mozart’s native land and you could be forgiven, amid the egalitarian attire of master and wedding groom, for confusing the handsome, valet Figaro of Iain Paterson for his smart master, the equally excellent baritone Scott Hendricks, the count who brings to mind those heady operatic days of Fischer-Dieskau!

The women, too, are in splendid voice, from the soaring, lyrical soprano of Sarah Tynan’s Susannah to the imposing beauty of (Countess) Susan Gritton’s glorious rendering of two of the most stirring arias in light opera. In the Act 2 soliloquy, God of love, her entrance is captivating while in the even more demanding Reflection on days long ago she is quite superb.

Tynan flirts delightfully with master and manservant and, with Gritten, joins in a splendid account of the duet How delightful to wander.

There is also a strong performance as a truly boyish Cherubino from the rising young mezzo-soprano Stephanie Marshall, currently distinguishing herself also at The Coliseum as Tessa in Gondoliers. Her dressing room antics as, in the shadow of master and mistress, she attempts to swap clothes and gender, are hilarious.

And there is some excellent scene-stealing by tenor Alan Oke, as a posh Don Bastilio with an accent that turns Count into caynt, and by baritone Nicholas Folwell as an irritable rustic gardener responsible, presumably, for all those flowers in designer Yannis Thavoris’s otherwise inviting settings which include a distinctly spooky wood within which everyone is lost before the uplifting conclusion restores everything - except our confidence in the fidelity of men and women.

The orchestra, with new Leader Janice Graham making her first appearance at the desk, is firmly whipped along at a smart tempo by conductor Andre de Ridder, until recently assistant conductor of The Halle and now a regular guest around the UK.

"The Marriage of Figaro" will be performed at The Coliseum on Thurs 25th and Saturday 27 January at 7.00 pm, and on Thurs 1st , Sat 3rd (6.00 pm), Tues 6th, Fri 9th, Wed 14th, Fri 16th and Tues 20th February.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole