The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, English translation by Amanda Holden
Opera North
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring

It's opera buffa, Jim, but not as we know it.

No, that's not fair: it's just me trying to create an impact and being misleading! Director Caroline Gawn and designer Alice Purcell, however, do firmly set this production in its opera buffa context in two somewhat unusual ways, one very traditional and the other very modern. Gawn gives us a number of stage pictures, brief moments only, which are reminiscent of opera buffa's ancestor, the Commedia dell'Arte, whilst Purcell's set, beautifully lit by Giuseppe di Iorio, has a sketchy cartoon-like quality which supports the lightness of the piece. They are helped enormously, of course, by Amanda Holden's (rather free) translation of da Ponte's libretto which is modern and very funny.

One very witty piece of set-dressing which appealed to me, high up on the cyclorama (lit most of the time in a very rich shade of deep green) at stage left, was the farfallone amoroso, the butterfly of love, a nice comment on the goings-on below.

But of course it is the performances which make or break a production, especially in an ensemble piece such as Marriage, requiring a lightness of touch combined with excellent technique, and this mainly young cast does not disappoint.

Jeni Bern's Susanna is a joy: feisty, full of energy and a perfect match for Wyn Pencarreg's Figaro who, for all his wiles in dealing with his master, is certainly not going to win in any contest with his wife!

As Cherubino - tall, gangling and totally sex-obsessed - Julieanne Young gives a fine comic performance, whilst Linda Richardson's Countess excites the audience's sympathy, especially when she - as we do - realises that her husband is not going to change. James McOran-Campbell's Almaviva is as hormonally driven as Cherubino but without the latter's charm. His self-centredness leads to anger and even sulkiness when he doesn't get his way and explains the off-hand and even surly "tribute" paid to him by the always impressive Opera North chorus.

Indeed there is no weakness in the entire ensemble: Jonathan Best's Bartolo, Angela Hickey's Marcellina, Harry Nicoll's Don Basilio, Ben Kerslake's Don Curzio and Jeremy Peaker's hilarious Antonio the gardener all provide strong support, but special mention must be made of Lucy Crowe as Barbarina. She has real stage presence and is definitely someone to watch out for in the future.

The Marriage of Figaro is one of those operas which are seen as a good introduction for newcomers to the genre and there were a number of school parties in the audience. This production will certainly have inspired them.

After Newcastle, the production goes on to Hull, Sheffield and Aberdeen

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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