The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro), Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House, July 2010

The revival of this co-production with the Welsh National Opera was very much a team effort, with excellent singing all round. Teddy Tahu Rhodes was particularly good as a strongly voiced yet surprisingly vulnerable Figaro. So often this character comes over as all too knowing, never seriously fearing for the loss of Susanna’s love, but here he showed natural human frailty on this extraordinarily crazy day — indeed an earlier title for this Mozart opera was The Crazy Day. It’s one of his three great collaborations with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who knowing he could not get away with Figaro’s rant against the aristocracy in the original play by Beaumarchais, replaces it with a rant against the perfidy of women. So it’s only natural that Figaro feels himself vulnerable. And with the Susanna of Taryn Fiebig, who sang with a lovely tone and charming air of spontaneity, the main couple was perfect.

The Countess and Count, photo by Branco Gaica

Peter Coleman-Wright as the Count was excellent, both vocally and in his passionate yet superficial desire for Susanna, while still apparently very attracted to the Countess. This was a Count of some complexity, and Rachelle Durkin portrayed a statuesque Countess, singing strongly, though with a little more vibrato than I care for. Half a head taller than Susanna, she managed to decrease her height admirably when they changed clothes in Act IV, and I only wish the designer Dale Ferguson had given her a decent wig, rather than a modern frizz of cultivated wild abandon. This was probably all part of the deliberately anachronistic touches, such as the flash camera, and one or two other things inserted into an eighteenth century environment, but the hair was frightful.

Kanen Breen’s very camp portrayal of Don Basilio was witty, though almost over the top, but that was evidently intentional, and Warwick Fyfe as Dr. Bartolo, with Jacqueline Dark as Marcelina, were rather touching, though his wig made him look absurd. Clifford Plumpton was wonderful as the gardener, entirely believable and not the irascible drunkard he sometimes appears, and Claire Lyon as his daughter Barbarina was gorgeous. The role of Cherubino is always a difficult one — a young woman pretending to be a young man who at one point dresses as a girl — but Sian Pendry’s movements were too girlish, though the costume, which showed her hips all too clearly, didn’t help. And I did think that exhibiting testosterone by banging the ironing board was over the top, though that was presumably the idea of director Neil Armfield, or associate director Roger Press.

The Count begs forgiveness at the end, photo by Branco Gaica

The main thing is that Patrick Summers did a fine job with the orchestra, keeping in touch with the singers while moving things forward at a good pace and bringing out the light and shade in the music.

Performances continue until 23 October, with cast and conductor changes starting in September — for more details click here.

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