Magazine article The Spectator

Dual Control

Magazine article The Spectator

Dual Control

Article excerpt

Le Nozze di Figaro

The Royal Academy of Music

L'elisar d'amore; Albert Herring

Glyndebourne on Tour in Norwich

It seems that every opera company that thought it might be a bit naff to stage Le Nozze di Figaro last year has decided that it would be smart to put it on this year, so that I have never seen any opera so often as Figaro during the past ten months -- and, if there is any that it's a good idea to see that often, this is surely the one. The scurry of those opening bars of the overture lifts the spirits as surely as the grandeur of the first bars of the Meistersinger prelude, each of them promising in its own way a period of bliss ahead, each of them a comedy which, however disruptive some of its constituent elements, is finally reassuring.

The Royal Academy of Music has so many aspiring Mozartian singers that it had two casts of principals for the four performances, and, using a logic which continues to escape me and anyone I've consulted, changed the cast halfway through each performance, surely a weird way of ensuring that they would all get a chance to sing the whole of their role. It was unfair on the second cast, too, since one instantly made invidious comparisons with the first. The Count, for instance, as sung in Acts I and II by Christopher Tonkin, can rarely have been portrayed with such handsome arrogance, and with a perfectly serviceable voice. But when the curtain rose for Act III, we saw a portly elderly gentleman, and immediately bridled, though Dong Jun Wang sang the role magnificently, and gave an account of his furious aria which could go straight on to a recording. Meanwhile, the wellmatched Susanna and Figaro of the first two acts were replaced by the tallest Figaro known to operatic history, and the shortest Susanna, leading one to worry about their marital arrangements more than one usually does, and making comedy into farce. And Cherubino's nimbleness was stressed by having one singer for Acts I and III, another for the other two. If the casts had alternated in the usual way with music schools, why would that have been unfair?

It says a lot for Mozart, for John Copley's production and for Colin Davis's conducting that it was, even so, a most satisfying evening. Copley demonstrated how, with no gimmicks, no updating, Figaro is just as wonderful and involving as it is when given the full 'producer's opera' treatment. And Davis, whom I first heard conduct Figaro in a concert performance 51 years ago, is even more deeply in love with the score now than he was then, unfortunately to the point where he can't restrain himself from turning the arias into duets. …

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