The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2011Posted on 6 October 2011
Sometimes in Figaro the Count can appear a bit of a twerp, but not here. Fiona Shaw’s new production allows him to show testosterone-fuelled frustration, and Roland Wood acted the part as if he were Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey with a wonderful singing voice and hormones running riot, even tearing a doll to pieces in Act III. Forget the TV series — go to the opera. With Elizabeth Llewellyn stepping in at the last minute as the Countess, this was simply wonderful. Her cavatina at the start of Act II when she sighs for the loss of her husband’s love immediately raised the performance a notch, just as it had at Holland Park this summer.
Iain Paterson sang a very solid Figaro, with excellent diction, though you never felt he was in any danger of losing the plot, and Devon Guthrie sang a beautiful Susanna. She was delightful in every way, and Kathryn Rudge as Cherubino gave a remarkable en travesti performance, acting very much the amorous young man. The whole cast sang extremely well together, with fine support from Paul Daniel in the orchestra pit.
This Mozart and Da Ponte opera has a cutting edge, based as it is on Beaumarchais’s play, which was banned from the stage in Vienna where the opera was first performed, and this production adumbrated the tension between master and servants rather well. The translation by Jeremy Sams was suitably direct, as for example when the Count sings at the start of Act III, “Could it be that another of my lackeys has got ideas above his station”. And the emphasis on the master/servant relationship is alluded to before the overture even starts, as we see projections of silhouettes doffing their hats and bowing deeply. But if this makes it sound too political, the production admirably adheres to Beaumarchais’s alternative title The Crazy Day (La folle journée), with a rotating stage conveying different aspects of the house’s interior and adding to the confusion all round at the end of Act II.
The designs by Peter McKintosh involved traditional costumes in an abstract modern setting, and the occasional use of video cameras pulled the whole thing forward in time as if we were looking back on a vanished world. Certainly that world vanished in one part of Europe with the French revolution in 1789, just three years after the first performance in Vienna, and the opera was only shown in France for the first time in 1793.
As with other English National Opera productions using modern translations, the words have an immediate effect, and Fiona Shaw’s production allows the performers to inhabit their roles and work together as if this were repertory theatre.
The result is well worth seeing, and performances continue until November 10 — for details click here.