Magazine article The Spectator

Inspired and Thrilling

Magazine article The Spectator

Inspired and Thrilling

Article excerpt

Le nozze di Figaro

Royal Opera House

The first night of the latest revival of the Royal Opera House's Le nozze di Figaro I count among the dozen, or perhaps fewer than that, most glorious evenings I have spent in the theatre. Figaro is the opera that a critic sees most often, and it is right that it should be, since it is not only an incomparably great work, but also one which can survive performances of very different levels of achievement. What one hopes for from the Royal Opera, and on this occasion gets in fullest measure, is a superb amalgamation of the arts of singing, acting, producing, conducting.

The cast is almost flawless, and so are the other ingredients, but what matters is not perfection but inspiration, and we had that above all from Sir Charles Mackerras.

I have heard him conduct Figaro many times, and he has never been less than good, as well as, of course, pioneering in the delicate art of ornamentation, which was here ripely displayed. But this was the first time I have felt that he was conducting a performance notably superior to any other I have attended, even from Colin Davis. Tempi were on the whole rapid, or seemed to be, but actually that was an illusion, created by the incredible amount of detail that he managed to elicit from the orchestra, at the absolute peak of its form, so that with so much heard to be happening the opera seemed to be moving faster than it was. Yet where expansiveness is required, as in the Countess's first aria, it was provided; and it occurred in some places where it rarely does, for instance in that magical passage midway through the helter-skelter of the finale to Act IV, when Figaro briefly draws breath and sings 'Tutto e tranquillo e placido', framed by some of the most moving wind music Mozart ever wrote. Usually this passage, which provides a whole different perspective on the action, is glossed over, but here it was distended to poignant effect, and sung marvellously by Ildebrando d'Arcangelo. Throughout, Mackerras gave the impression that this score, which he must know as well as anyone ever has, has been an object of renewed study for him, and that he has imparted all he has discovered to a delighted orchestra, thrilled to share his pleasure.

For the first time, too, I found that the production, now quite extensively modified by the revival director Leah Hausman, but originally by David McVicar, was convincing, even though there are still irritants such as the acting out of the Overture, where the music tells us all we need to know of exuberance and rebelliousness without the scurryings on the stage. …

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