Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Le nozze di Figaro: Glyndebourne on Tour @ Theatre Royal Plymouth

24 November 2005


Glyndebourne (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

Glyndebourne on Tour’s latest Figaro is to my mind the most outstanding and enjoyable production of the last 12 years. The opera is essentially a humane and enlightened statement about us: our daily existence as silly, vain, lustful, arrogant and duplicitous human beings – yet still lovable and valued despite ourselves.

All these human defects and emotions are explored, though its heroes are not especially heroic. Nor are the villains terribly heinous. This production, originally produced at the Glyndebourne Festival by Graham Vick in 2000 and revived on tour by Jacopo Spirei with a predominantly youthful cast, was an evening of absolute delight.

Beaumarchais wrote three Figaro plays; the second, The Marriage of Figaro, finally got past the censor and was first staged in 1784, five years after it had been written. The reason for that delay was that it was considered too subversive: a threat to the established order of society. However, by the time Mozart and da Ponte got their hands on it, it was already the most successful play in eighteenth-century Europe. Beaumarchais’ first play in the trilogy, The Barber of Seville, uses Figaro’s wit and guile to enable the young Count Almaviva to rescue Rosina – the future Countess – from the boorish old guardian Bartolo.

In the second play, a darker comedy, Figaro is now up against the Count himself, an aristocrat of the old order, who has voluntarily abandoned his droit de seigneur, but still believes he is entitled by birth to more than his fair share: to Figaro’s wife as well as his own. However, beyond the comedy of Mozart’s opera there lay tragedy to come, foretelling that despite the seemingly happy ending of the mad day of the wedding on the estate of Count Almaviva, the nature of the protagonists is such as to guarantee that the forgiveness and reconciliation is temporary. Events will be repeated, but with happiness and the Countess’ sanity as the price.

For there is a third Figaro, now almost forgotten – a tragic melodrama entitled La Mere Coupable – A Mother’s Guilt – set in Paris, rather than Spain, at the height of the Revolution. In it all the pigeons come home to roost: Almaviva’s estate has been sold up and his money is running out, the Countess, driven by the Count’s coldness into the arms of Cherubino, has an illegitimate child. Cherubino himself has sought death on the battlefield. But all that lies in the future: just for today the luminous finale of this wonderful performance epitomises Mozart’s radiant vision of human concord and harmony.

Iain Anderson characterises the eponymous hero with a mixture of playfulness and deadly earnest; quick-witted ironic mischief; full of guile yet when it really counts, like putty in his bride’s hands. He sang resonantly and expressively throughout. Both he and Susanna, the delightful French soprano Anna Maria Panzarella, struck sparks off each other right from the opening scene. She was spiritedly pert, just as effective a backstage schemer, and suggestively sexy.

She beautifully complemented 26-year-old Kate Royal’s Countess Almaviva who was, for me, the star of the performance. The role stands or falls by the two big arias. Porgi amor at the opening to Act 2 was taken quite slowly with gorgeous singing, generous phrasing and a lovely full tone. And Dove sono in Act 3 was touching and vulnerable, every bit the wronged patrician noblewoman, yet still willing to forgive.

Jeremy Carpenter made an impressive Count Almaviva – suave, arrogant libidinous, imperious, cunning and, at the end, contrite. Amy Freston, another highlight of this performance, imbued Cherubino with flirtatious, mercurial, adolescent urgency. In both Non so piu and Voi che sapete, the last elegantly displaying the deportment of a trained classical dancer, every inch the ardent infatuated youth.

The supporting cast was excellent. Lynton Black was a comically pompous Dr Bartolo, and Anne Mason and Harry Nicholl served their parts well as Marcellina and Don Basilio. Thomas Rosner conducted an orchestra that was on top form with zest and vigour.

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Le nozze di Figaro: Glyndebourne on Tour @ Theatre Royal Plymouth