The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2014Posted on 17 October 2014
The revival of this ENO production had its first night on the 221st anniversary of the death of Marie-Antoinette, the first queen to perform in the original play by Beaumarchais. This was at her private house in Versailles, and the king then banned public performances, until in 1784 it opened at the Comédie Française in Paris with the action transferred from France to Spain.
In Fiona Shaw’s excellent production the Spanish setting is partly reflected in the costumes, and the Count’s mansion with its innumerable rooms and corridors is cleverly represented in Peter McKintosh’s designs on a revolving stage where performers easily pass from one room to another. The tension between aristocrats and their small army of servants is superbly captured in the stage action, together with Jeremy Sams’ appealing translation where for example at the start of Act III the Count sings, “Could it be that another of my lackeys has got ideas above his station”.
Fiona Shaw produces excellent theatre dovetailing beautifully with Mozart’s music, which under the baton of Jaime Martin received the same lively energy he produced in his ENO debut eighteen months ago with Rossini’s Barber, based on the earlier Beaumarchais play. The main extra character here is of course Susanna, stunningly played and sung by Mary Bevan. Her lively, attractive charm was a driving force behind this performance, contrasting with the more measured beauty of Sarah-Jane Brandon’s Countess, who sang with sweet gentleness, particularly in her Act III cavatina as she sighs for the loss of her husband’s love.
Figaro himself was given a wonderful portrayal by David Stout, showing just the right mixture of charm, energy and resourcefulness, even appearing to lose the plot in Act IV. That of course is what the Count does, several times, with Benedict Nelson’s demonstration of anxiety and testosterone fuelled aggression. In more minor roles, Colin Judson was terrific as Don Basilio, blind in this production, and Lucy Schaufer made a glorious Marcelinna. An excellent revenge aria by Jonathan Best as her employer and future husband Dr. Bartolo, a strong performance by Martin Lamb as the gardener Antonio, and Ellie Laugharne was a delight as his daughter, though I’m not sure about all the drinking.
Diction all round was excellent, in some cases superb, making this a wonderful stage performance with sublime music. In reviving her own production, Fiona Shaw admirably shows the bustle of the Count’s household on this crazy day (La folle journée, its alternative title), and I liked the new trick with the bee, trapped in a harpsichord by Figaro before the start of the overture, and released by the Count before the start of the second part. Opera as theatre — wonderful.
Performances continue until November 19 — for details click here.