Le Nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne, June 2012

If you demand this opera in eighteenth century costume — and I overheard some in the audience who did — then forget it. But if you are happy to see a more up to date interpretation, then this is a winner.

All images Glyndebourne Opera/ Alastair Muir

It’s the 1960s and Almaviva is one of the nouveau riche, possibly a pop star, who occupies a magnificent house with servants. He arrives home with his wife in a two-tone sports car, dressed in a loud jacket of Carnaby Street style, while Basilio wears check trousers and jacket. He lights a fag from a silver case, and offers one to Almaviva, who later in the opera smokes a joint and shares it with Susanna.

Susanna and Almaviva

Don’t be put off — Almaviva’s a prat, we all know that — and he gets his come-uppance. It all works perfectly. Sally Matthews as the countess in long flowing dresses was elegance itself, and her soliloquy Dove sono i bei momenti in Act III was a lovely moment that captured the heart of the audience.

The countess

This Michael Grandage production gave us a wonderful stage play, complete with music and singing, capturing the natural interactions between its characters during this ‘crazy day’, taken from Beaumarchais by Mozart and Da Ponte. Vito Priante as Figaro showed quick-witted intelligence as well as becoming admirably disconcerted, and Lydia Teuscher as Susanna switched effortlessly from melodious phrases to annoyance and determination. Her interplay in Act I with Ann Murray’s well-nuanced portrayal of Marcellina was great fun. Andrew Shore as Bartolo delivered a superb La vendetta in Act I, and when he and Marcellina finally realise that Figaro is their son, he showed palpable astonishment and delight as he calls out Rafaelo! … gently pummelling his long lost boy. This is acting of very high quality, preceded of course by Almaviva’s short-lived delight at hearing Don Curzio’s legal opinion of Figaro’s contract with Marcellina, robustly delivered by Colin Judson.

Susanna, Figaro, Marcellina, Bartolo

Isabel Leonard as Cherubino showed characterisations ranging from an attractively sympathetic young man in Act I to infuriatingly testosterone-fuelled impertinence in Act IV, and her Voi che sapete in Act II was a knockout. Sarah Shafer as Barbarina was delightful in her mini skirt, and the dancing at the end of Act III amplified the location of this production to the 1960s when ballroom was strictly passé. Alan Oke’s Don Basilio fitted perfectly with this new hedonism, as did Audun Iversen’s Almaviva as a youngish success story in the world of fashion or entertainment with an elegant wife who no longer fuels his fancy.

Almaviva, with his wife in disguise

Sets by Christopher Oram filled the Glyndebourne stage with the feel of a vintage country house, a rotation converting Act I to II, and a second rotation after the interval converting Act III to IV. Stage positioning and movement of the performers was beautifully judged, and lighting by Paule Constable was superb. From the orchestra pit, Robin Ticciati commanded the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with fine forward drive and sensitivity to the singers. A hugely entertaining co-production with Houston Grand Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, but see it at Glyndebourne first! Performances continue until August 22 — for details click here.

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