Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Le nozze di Figaro review – a marriage made to last

30 May 2024

Garsington Opera revives a classic production that stands the test of time.

Le nozze di Figaro

Samantha Clarke, Claire Lees, Rafael Fingerlos & David Ireland (Photo: Julian Guidera)

There are revivals, and then there are revivals. Some are rehashes of productions which really should never have seen the light of day in the first place, and some are welcome reimaginings of classic stagings, revived by creative minds in tune with the timeless originals. This second night of Garsington Opera’s season was an example of the latter type, with Bruno Ravella in charge of reviving the classic John Cox production. One of our picnic neighbours opined that it was “…so very refreshing to see something like this done as it really should be done”. If that means it is conventional and features such things as pine trees that are tall enough to hide behind, not to mention characters who actually seem to know each other, then so be it.

Paul Nilon as Don Basilio, Neal Davies as Dr Bartolo, and Susan Bickley as Marcellina – what house, here or anywhere else in Europe, could cast these secondary parts with such primary singers? Nilon’s finicky, bitchy Basilio was light years away from his world-weary Aschenbach here, but of course just as beautifully sung. Neal Davies is  theMessiah’ bass, but here he was thundering away as a sublimely confident Bartolo. As for Susan Bickley, is there any role that she does not command as her own? What an inspiration to the younger members of the ensemble these three must have been.

The casting of the principals was very much done with youth and freshness in mind; Bethany Horak-Hallett was the pick of the bunch with her ardent, quivering Cherubino, with Claire Lees’ vivacious and sweet-toned Susanna and David Ireland’s bumptious, very well sung Figaro not far behind. Those who were here for last year’s Ariadne auf Naxos in which Claire Lees sang one of the Naiads, will not have been surprised by her prowess in a major role. Samantha Clarke was making her house debut as the Countess; her first act aria was a little tentative, but she found her stride in ‘Dove sono’, which was sung with delicate tone and seductive phrasing.

“There are revivals, and then there are revivals”

Le nozze di Figaro

Bethany Horak-Hallett & Samantha Clarke (Photo: Julian Guidera)

Rafael Fingerlos was a bold choice as the Count – although he caught much of the character’s overweening arrogance, his very fine-grained baritone needed to be produced more emphatically. As with his Countess, this is a performance which will surely grow in strength as the run progresses. Frazer Scott’s Antonio is already as complete a character as his peerless Caronte was in the 2022 Orfeo, and his daughter Barbarina was sung with guileless aplomb by Stephanie Hershaw. Bradyn Debysingh is certainly a name of which you’ll hear more – his Don Curzio was a model of ingratiating sycophancy, delivered in dulcet tones. Jessica Lawley and Hannah Bennett justified their selection as the Bridesmaids, and the Chorus sang lustily.

Tabita Berglund was making her Garsington debut, and one from whom we’ll surely hear more. She urged the Philharmonia Orchestra into an overture taken at a positively cracking pace, and from then on the liveliness never let up, although the orchestral support during the arias of the Count and Countess was as delicate as you could wish. Berglund’s training as a ‘cellist could be sensed in her musical phrasing and her understanding of the shape of the music, despite a few small lapses in co-ordination between pit and stage.

John Cox’ production was always beautifully crafted, and it was here sympathetically revived by his friend and colleague Bruno Ravella, who is well known here both for his sure hand with revivals and his originality with such productions as his 2021 Rosenkavalier. Robert Perdziola’s designs are traditional but never ponderous, and beautifully lit by Malcolm Rippeth. The disputed bedroom for Susanna and Figaro and the Countess’ boudoir convince completely, as does the splendidly arboreal garden scene – what a relief after all those productions which sport cacti behind which you couldn’t hide a puppy. ‘A real treat’ was the verdict of the audience.

• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.

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Le nozze di Figaro review – a marriage made to last