Marriage of Figaro, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2016Posted on 19 February 2016
This second part of WNO’s Figaro triptych uses the same excellent design team of Ralph Koltai (sets), Sue Blane (costumes) and Linus Fellbom (lighting) as the Barber of Seville, with designs again featuring two huge walls. In this case they move apart to allow entrances, exits and a hint of deception between master and servant, though the singers occasionally come on and off stage via the auditorium in this lively production, very well directed by Tobias Richter.
The busyness of a large household is emphasised before the start with players already on stage, and the designs and lighting give a clarity that renders this a hugely illuminating Figaro, unencumbered by clever irrelevances. And the orchestral performance under the baton of music director Lothar Koenigs provided bounce, vivacity and Mozartian wit that never flagged for a moment. It was a performance to treasure, the singing fitting seamlessly into the orchestral fabric, none better than the brilliant Susanna of Anna Devin, whose pretty voice, lovely coloratura and spicily vibrant stage presence was one of the joys of the evening.
Her would-be lover Count Almaviva was given fine vocal gravitas and restrained passion by Mark Stone, and the Act 3 monologue where he shows confusion at being outwitted by his servants made him a refreshingly sympathetic character. The Countess, beautifully sung by Elizabeth Watts, did not quite engage our sympathies the same way, and her Act 3 aria recalling those lovely lost moments of love lacked warmth. David Stout as Figaro himself, around whom all plots turn until his final jealousy and confusion, showed nice intonation along with theatrical wit and invention, if a bit light on diction occasionally.
No such quibbles with the robust vocal portrayals of Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina by Richard Wiegold and Susan Bickley, whose wigs and costumes were delightfully over the top. In Jeremy Sams’ excellent translation Bartolo’s “That bastard Figaro, I’ll make him pay” was delivered with heartfelt determination, and the often-cut Act 4 aria for Marcellina, lamenting the inability of humans to get along with one another, was beautifully sung. In the trouser role of Cherubino, Naomi O’Connell gave a very convincing portrayal, and a frisson of excitement when he cross-dresses as a woman.
This terrific cast had hardly a weak point between them, and with the perfect diction of Alan Oke in the stylish persona of Basilio, and Rhian Lois as a charmingly effervescent Barbarina, this was as strong a Figaro as one could wish. A wonderful staging with excellent contributions from the chorus, and careful thought given to placement and movement — a refreshing change from the directorial concepts occasionally inflicted on audiences at Covent Garden.
After further performances in Cardiff this tours to: Birmingham Hippodrome, 2–5 Mar; Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 9–12 Mar; Bristol Hippodrome, 16–19 Mar; Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 23–26 Mar; Milton Keynes Theatre, 30 Mar – 2 Apr; Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 6–9 Apr — for details click here.