Magazine article The Spectator

Dynamic Duo

Magazine article The Spectator

Dynamic Duo

Article excerpt

Le Nozze di Figaro Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera rightly celebrates the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth with Le Nozze di Figaro, the greatest of his operas, or anyway the greatest nonGerman one. It is fashionable now to rate Così fan tutte most highly, but that says a lot more about us than about the works.

Figaro and Susanna are as uncomplicatedly in love as two such lively and demanding people can be, surrounded and immersed in all manner of intrigue. The lovers in Così are much more simple-minded, and the object of the experiment to which they are unpleasantly subjected is to see how much pressure their feelings can bear, and to our delight and squirming gratification it turns out to be very little. We tend to adore ambiguity and uncertainty, which Così and even Don Giovanni richly yield.

But however intrusive a director tries to be with Figaro, nothing can destroy the integrity of that wonderfully resilient pair, or the suffering of the Countess at her husband's unfaithfulness. The plot is eternally bewildering and intricate, yet the feelings that are so fully explored and exposed are marvellously straightforward and intense.

Contemporary directors, who respond to all the gaps and uncertainties in works, indeed are interested in little else, must find Figaro a frustrating piece, reposing as it does so solidly on a set of views about human nature, the possibility of dignity and fidelity, the capacity for forgiveness and generosity of feeling, which counter the 'subversiveness' which is the stock-in-trade, if not the bread and butter, of these industrious pests.

David McVicar, the director of this new Figaro, as of most new things at Covent Garden, is too skilful to be stymied by the comprehensiveness and beauty of Figaro.

He writes with eloquent vacuity about it in the programme, telling us to 'Watch, listen, participate', the first two of which is what we go to the opera to do anyway, while the injunction to do the third is just unclear. What he presents us with is hyperactivity, beginning -- always a bad sign -- with the first notes of the overture.

Throughout that exciting piece, supposing that we manage to concentrate on it, we see many servants coming and going with laundry, Figaro being debagged by his colleagues, his future accommodation rolling into view, and so forth. The Count's château is a busy place, privacy is at a premium -- but that is all written in. The Covent Garden stage is inconveniently large for much of Figaro, but that is no excuse for filling it with distracting 'life', with the performers of each scene making their appearance during Mozart's sublime coda to the previous one. …

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