Figaro occupies a special place at Glyndebourne, so it’s a great pleasure to report that this revival of the 2012 production positively fizzes with energy, that the stage is dominated by vibrant young singers at the start of what promise to be great careers and that the positive features of Michael Grandage’s original staging have not been lost in Ian Rutherford’s observant and funny revival.
We are once more in a somewhat cramped version of the Alhambra, the Count resembling Disco Stu rather than a Grandee and the Countess teetering on platforms and looking like a more elegant version of Beverly from Abigail’s Party than a noble Spanish lady; the shiny car still elicits guffaws, and the twist n’ jive dancing still encourages audience ‘participation’ – no, we did not get up and dance in the aisles, but we did clap along with the beat – and the garden pond still has you wondering if someone will fall in. The difference is that everything is sharper than last time, the interactions between, say, Figaro and Cherubino more detailed, and in the pit, Jérémie Rhorer takes the music at a snappy, witty pace whilst still cherishing the most tender moments.
The cast is exceptionally strong, and in many ways fulfils one’s dream of what a Mozart opera ensemble should sound like; the Almavivas and their two favourite servants were all house debutants, and all sang with truly Mozartian grace. It will be very surprising if Laura Tatulescu’s Susanna and Amanda Majeski’s Countess do not become well known features of all the other leading opera houses; the former’s sweetness of tone and ease of phrasing brought Arleen Auger to mind, and although a couple of Majeski’s notes were a little tentative (surely first-night nerves) her singing was eloquent and touching. Lydia Teuscher, last year’s Susanna, was a passionate, utterly convincing Cherubino, both arias brimming over with youthful longing.
Adam Plachetka was a likeable Figaro, his experience as a Handel bass revealed in the confident ease of his phrasing and his strength in ensemble. Joshua Hopkins made quite an impression with his Argante in the Glyndebourne Tour Rinaldo so it was good to see him ‘graduate’ to the main stage to present a rather petulant yet somehow lovable rogue of a Count; he made the most of his aria and succeeded in gaining sympathy with his plea for forgiveness. Luciano di Pasquale’s Bartolo oozed Italianità, Anne Mason’s Marcellina made you wish she’d been allowed her aria, and Timothy Robinson was luxury casting as a slimy but superbly sung Basilio.
Sara Lian Owen came from the Chorus to sing a sweetly toned Barbarina, Alasdair Elliott and Nicholas Folwell provided rounded comic cameos as Don Curzio and Antonio respectively; in Charlotte Beament and Annie Fredriksson, we heard two more Chorus members of undoubted promise as the Bridesmaids. Jeremy Bines obtained lively, characterful singing from the assorted maids, gardeners and yokels, i.e. the Chorus, and the orchestra responded to Jérémie Rhorer with playing of elegance, lightness and verve. Gareth Hancock and Francis Bucknall framed the action with lively, witty continuo.
Are there any more moving moments in opera, than those where Figaro reveals that he knew all along that he was propositioning Susanna, and where the Countess forgives her errant husband? In this production, both ‘Pace, pace, mio dolce Tesoro’ and ‘Più docile io sono’ brought tears to the eyes; this conductor may urge the music along at a pace that’s possibly too fast for some, but he knows how to give the hallowed phrases their due, as indeed was the case with this exceptional revival.