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The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Savoy Opera,
Savoy Theatre
(2004)

Raymond Gubbay's fledgling Savoy opera follows its opening production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville with the ultimate in opera buffa - Mozart's masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro. The result is a rare treat for opera fans old and new.

Once again, the company are young, talented and vigorous. Smiles in the eyes of the singers suggest their enjoyment is as great as ours. What this implies for their production of the tragic Carmen remains to be seen! But let's enjoy it while we may.

If a performance with so little time for seriousness has anything serious to say, it might be a lesson in the art of speaking to today's audiences from the comfort of the artist's own period.

While the Savoy's Barber founders on an unsuccessful attempt to translate 18th century customs into modern slang, Figaro is presented by director Matthew Richardson as an ageless comedy for all time. This achievement is due in no small measure to Jeremy Sams' colourful translation.

Moreover, this mischievously witty text reminds us that Mozart's predecessor at the Savoy if not historically, W.S.Gilbert, was not the inventor of the patter song!

To enjoy the impressive Figaro of Darren Jeffrey is to savour qualities of a lusty baritone bristling with humour. Yet not too big to be thoroughly spanked by the enterprising Susanna of Tamsin Coombs, a delightful soprano with, like the dramatic baritone and handsome figure of Damian Thantrey's Almaviva, many roles ahead.

That, however, is a label to be attached to most of this effervescent company - not least the Irish-born mezzo Doreen Curran whose Cherubino is the most engaging characterisation of the role for many a day. Barely a trouser part, either, since breeches are not always worn!

But then, loss of breeches is but a symbol of the total mischief going on here and involving the entire company, not least the distinguished veteran bass, Richard Van Allan. His Bartolo is a gem that illuminates the sextet following the great exposure.

Watch out, too, for individual performances of Pippa Longworth (Marcelina), Joseph Shovelton (Basilio) and Yvette Bonner (Barbarina).

Conductor Paul McGrath and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with a muted "harpsichord", provide a fine base for the singers, though the chorus appear occasionally independent and over-inclined to fortissimo.

"The Marriage of Figaro" runs in repertoire with "The Barber of Seville" until June, after which Savoy Opera's new productions of Bizet's "Carmen" and Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" will be staged from 3 & 5th July. Autumn productions will include "La Traviata", "La Belle Helèn", and "The Magic Flute".

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole