The Marriage of Figaro, Glyndebourne Opera: Opera at the Proms

By Lambton, Sophia | Musical Opinion, November/December 2012 | Go to article overview

The Marriage of Figaro, Glyndebourne Opera: Opera at the Proms


Lambton, Sophia, Musical Opinion


There are some stagings incompatible with operas, just as there are operas incompatible with concert halls. This was the case on both counts for the Glyndebourne, semi-staged production of The Marriage of Figaro, which firstly transferred the customary setting of an opera house to the cylinder-shaped, tall Royal Albert Hall, and secondly updated the late eighteenth-century setting to a modern 1960s' one, where most of the cast and main characters did not incarnate their position - that of a count or a page, or a maid - but happily lived in similar dress as one big family of hippies.

This is why, though the greatness of the work meant that The Marriage of Figaro remained identifiable in its four-hour length, there was little about it deeply connected to that ever-so popular opera, The Marriage of Figaro. The set - or the remains of it which could fit - was constructed on a small stage right at the back of the concert platform, with the orchestra ostensibly in front. This meant that often the sound of the orchestra overcame that of the singers, and the singers' qualities were therefore very difficult to judge. Being so far down the stage (the equivalent would be setting an opera exclusively down stage at Covent Garden, a daring move which would surely get many complaints), the voices were dispersed as they might have been in an open air concert. Except that open air concerts are often performed with microphones, so the sound was even more uneven than that; all the audience heard of the singers' voices, no matter where their seats were, was a floating echo of some melody. The same musical experience would probably ensue if one were to stand at the front of a cave and listen to a chanting chorus singing at the back.

Putting aside this major hindrance to the production, The Marriage of Figaro did not resemble The Marriage of Figaro - and nor did it make much sense in its modern setting. The director, Ian Rutherford, applied his own ideas of how social status should be reflected in the costumes, and therefore made the visual spectacle contradict both the libretto and music. Count Almaviva, whatever one may think of his character or charm, is, first of all, a count. Although the practice of the droit du seigneur has long been abolished, Almaviva is the kind of man who prefers to live by his own rights. By his thirst and, we presume, experience with women, he may not be the sharpest of men, but he ought at least to have a dashing air about him.

Instead, in this sixties production, we are greeted with a golden-haired man in a red-velvet, unbelievably tacky suit, clad in a puffy blond wig and fake moustache. We can understand why Susanna rejects his advances, but we surely don't expect him to resemble some failing used car salesman. No matter how ladies dressed in the sixties, the audience can hardly be persuaded that when Mozart wrote the part of Countess Almaviva, he envisaged her dressed as a hippy. Even in a maid's outfit, Susanna ends up looking the more sensible and even noble in the lack of wearing 'flower power' clothes. In the same way Cherubino, whose attraction for girls and women is becoming his reason to be, may be an inexperienced, perhaps naive young man, but even in the sixties version he would not be seen dead in the colourful, flower-printed shirt he wore in the opera.

Given the fact that the change of the setting already invalidates the opera - for, of all periods in modern history, the droit du seigneur most certainly could not have existed in any form in the feminist-inclined, freedom-loving 1 960s - Rutherford decides to sabotage the entire logic of his production by making a move apparently common in modern settings nowadays. When Susanna and ñgaro get married, and again at the end, he includes what looks like the nineties Spanish song and dance, the 'Macarena', which has the characters swivelling their hips and clapping their hands rhythmically.

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