Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: The Marriage of Figaro; Figaro Gets a Divorce

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: The Marriage of Figaro; Figaro Gets a Divorce

Article excerpt

Near the end of Elena Langer's new opera Figaro Gets a Divorce , as the Almaviva household -- now emigrés in an unnamed 1930s police state -- prepares to flee, the Countess announces that she intends to leave her trunk behind. It's not the subtlest moment in David Pountney's libretto. Any opera that sets itself up as a sequel to The Marriage of Figaro is already courting comparisons that are both completely unavoidable and massively unfair. When the production of Figaro is as good as this one, that baggage can become so heavy that it's immovable.

Welsh National Opera isn't the first company to present The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro as a pair, and Langer's isn't the first attempt to create a third drama using Beaumarchais's characters. Pountney's libretto is based on a play by Horváth, itself an updating of Beaumarchais's own rather unsatisfactory La Mère coupable . Then there's Massenet's Chérubin , which borrows a single character and whips up a soufflé around him. On balance, that's the safest approach -- creating a wholly new and self-contained world each time.

And that's where WNO's new Marriage of Figaro succeeds. David Stout's Figaro bustles in through the audience mid-overture, a touch of pantomime that sets the tone. It's no bad thing to be reminded that Figaro is a comedy, and throughout the evening, director Tobias Richter gently nudges it over the line. Figaro himself is cheerfully theatrical, all raised eyebrows and flourishing hand gestures. Surreal touches -- an exploding iron, a flickering lightbulb -- fit well with the big, abstract flats of Ralph Koltai's set. Characters address the audience directly (Susan Bickley's Marcellina sipping a glass of champagne as she does so) and Sue Blane's bright period-appropriate costumes are just cartoonish enough to wink at the artifice without puncturing it.

Best of all though, with Lothar Koenigs conducting, it absolutely fizzes. The jokes land, and the principals (many of them WNO regulars) play off each other marvellously. Stout's dark, flexible voice makes an effective foil for the paler tones of Mark Stone's Count and Elizabeth Watts sings with a richness and sense of shade that nicely complements her more than usually impulsive portrayal of the Countess. If the Count and Countess's final reconciliation didn't quite pierce the heart on this first night, the essentials are in place: it's the sort of thing that might well blossom naturally as the run continues.

Meanwhile, there's a Cherubino (Naomi O'Connell) who actually acts and sounds like a hormonally challenged teenage boy, and a minxy Barbarina (Rhian Lois) who'd happily eat the Count alive, let alone his page. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.