Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Le nozze di Figaro @ Royal Opera, London

24, 27, 30 June, 2, 5, 8, 10, 12, 16, 19 July 2008

Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House (Photo: Luke Hayes/Royal Opera House)

It is said that the state of an opera company’s health is judged not by its new productions but by the strength of its revivals, and on the basis of this razor-sharp performance of Le Nozze di Figaro, the Royal Opera is currently riding on the crest of a wave. With a more homogenous cast than when this production was new, the company scores on all fronts with this effervescent revival.

Revolution is in the air in McVicar’s updated production (to the end of the 18th Century) and he manages to create an underlying air of menace between Figaro and the Count which I’ve not experienced in this work before, making the relationship between servant and master the lynchpin of the piece. The tension between Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s trenchantly sung Figaro and Peter Mattei’s wonderfully drawn Count threatens to spill over into violence at any moment. Indeed I don’t think I’ve seen the title role played at such a level of unrelenting pent-up frustration as D’Arcangelo’s brings to the role, whilst in an auspicious house debut Mattei is the epitome of the libidinous Count, and sings with a burnished tone. The two singers compliment each other marvellously.

The two leading ladies are also new. Aleksandra Kurzak is a ballsy Susanna, as tough as old boots in her encounters with Marcellina and the Count, yet bewitching in ‘Deh Vieni’ whilst Barbara Frittoli produces achingly beautiful singing in both her two big set pieces, ‘Porgi Amor’ and ‘Dove Sono’. Both ladies embellish their arias with tasteful ornamentation as 18th century practice dictates.

In a cast without a single weak link, Anna Bonitatibus makes a huge impression as a gangly adolescent Cherubino and her introverted, delicate rendition of ‘Voi che sapete’ was the vocal highlight of the evening. Ann Murray is an irrepressible Marcellina, ably supported by Robert Lloyd’s sonorous Basilio whist Robin Leggate, Donald Maxwell and Harry Nicoll provide strong cameos. Kishani Jayasinghe’s Barbarina is an unalloyed delight. The entire cast works together as a tightly-knit ensemble, and ensures that McVicar’s production packs more of a theatrical punch than when it was new two years ago.

And what can one say of the conductor, Charles Mackerras? He achieves miracles with the score and draws superb playing from all sections of the orchestra, especially the strings and woodwind, who phrase like angels from start to finish. It has to be said that they play better for him than they do any other conductor, Pappano included. His tempi err on the fast side, but he never hurries his singers and it’s evident that the orchestra obviously relishes every moment he spends with them, so it’s good to report that Mackerras returns for the opening of the 2008-09 season with a revival of Don Giovanni. Despite being well into his 80s, Mackerras shows no signs of retiring, and for that we should be eternally grateful.

David McVicar’s wonderfully delineated production of Mozart’s evergreen masterpiece is expertly revived by Leah Hausman.

Le nozze di Figaro will be broadcast live on Wednesday 16 July at 7pm on the BP Summer Big Screens in Trafalgar Square and Canary Wharf, as well as on several other screens around the UK.

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