The Marriage of Figaro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in a version of Da Ponte's libretto by Kit Hesketh Harvey
Bath Music Festival The Pavilion, Bath
The omens weren't fortuitous. Rain was rolling in sheets over Georgian Bath where touring ensemble Armonico Consort were shortly due to take to the stage to perform The Marriage of Figaro as part of the Bath Music Festival.
However, aside from a few sour notes which crept in due to the sheer amount of water evaporating off the packed audience, sending tuning awry, I suspect, this marriage, if not quite made in heaven, offered pleasures of a high order.
It was my first encounter with the group which performed King Arthur at Bath the previous season to considerable acclaim. Since it launched in 2001 as a choral ensemble, Armonico has built a reputation for performing exciting, fun and accessible music around the country in what are often sell-out shows.
Fun was certainly to the fore in this production which couldn't be further from the drear Salzburg production directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt two years. Tempos were suitably brisk, the action likewise, though the desire to entertain led, at times, to considerable over-egging of proceedings by some of the cast.
But if this Figaro is on the broad side it is in no small part down to the new libretto provided by Kit Hesketh Harvey which, for example rhymes, 'rock on' with 'frock on' and 'come on girlies/we've got him by the short and curlies'.
Quite how you react to this very free translation of Da Ponte's adaptation of Beaumarchais' play is clearly a matter of taste. For the most part it is done with a great deal of chutzpah and, on its own terms, works very well indeed.
In an interview prior to the launch of the tour, director Michael McCaffrey spoke of his reluctance to retain the original 18th century setting of the opera given the idiomatic, very English nature of the new libretto and he pointed up what he felt were the parallels between society then and the 1960s in Britain.
The director added, "It's moving from that period into that time of social revolution And, given the way the aristocrats behave, there are hints of Lord Lucan and Profumo. In Beaumarchais' play I think there's that feeling that this is all coming to an end and that if they don't change its all up for them."
Rather than opt for an out-and-out 60s setting, however, McCaffrey opts for a staging, in part dictated by practical considerations, which mixes elements of the 18th century and anachronisms such as an electric torch and a bag of golf clubs. If all this sounds jarring, it does not, in practice, prove to be the case.
The acoustics were not altogether favourable and some of the singing was lost at times. But there were strong performances from the largely young cast including Kate Flowers, as Marcellina, and baritone John Rawnsley, doubling as Bartolo and Antonio. Daniel Griece was a personable and pleasing Figaro and Joanna Boag was a charming Susannah and Katie Bird a fine Countess.
Musical director Christopher Monks ensured strong support and a confident and enjoyable evening went down a treat with an enthusiastic Bath audience.
Reviewer: Pete Wood