Magazine article The Spectator

A Modern Marriage

Magazine article The Spectator

A Modern Marriage

Article excerpt

Opera

The Marriage of Figaro The Pearl Fishers

(English Touring Opera)

The Cambridge Arts Theatre only 150 yards from where I live, is ideally situated for opera. Unfortunately it is too small for any but touring companies, though I am strongly in their favour, so long as they don't use their mobility as an excuse for anything. English Touring Opera, at its best, clearly needs no excuses. In their new production of The Marriage of Figaro and their four months' old one of Bizet's The Pearl Fisher they are some way below their best, though I think remediably in the latter. Figaro is directed by Stephen Medcalf, and most of its inadequacies are his fault. He has opted for a contemporary version, with a modified text. Thus the Count is a photographer, an excuse for a vexatious number of flashes in the final scene; his wife an actress, Marcellina runs his modelling agency, and Basilio is Susanna'a aerobics instructor. The Countess prepares to sing her first aria by watching a video of Renee Fleming singing it in the current Glyndebourne production (also by Medcalf) and one need hardly say Bartolo delivers his aria into a mobile phone.

At that point, though, the adaptors' courage has deserted them, and we still have references to Susanna's virtue, the Count's blessing her union with Figaro, his abandonment of the droit de seigneur and all told a context which simply doesn't make sense in the present day. Laughter was generated only hy the wrong sort of incongruity, and the possibility of being moved, as for instance by the beauty of the moment in which Susanna arrives with the money to pay off Figaro's debt, was eliminated. A pity because on the whole the musical execution is of a high standard, even if the orchestral playing is a bit rough, and the strings undernourished. The star is undoubtedly Mathew Hargreaves as Figaro, a completely accomplished account, sung with the right mixture of the sardonic and the trustful. His Susanna, Anna-Clare Monk, is good too, but without the evident promise of great things to come that Hargreaves shows. The upper orders are less impressive, with the Countess, Elena Ferrari singing far too loudly throughout, but especially in her opening aria. The Count lacks authority, and since the opera is largely about the undermining of it, it is important that he should possess some in the first place. …

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