Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, March 2018Posted on 30 March 2018
This is exactly what the English National Opera should be doing: staging operas in comprehensible productions with a strong cast of mainly British singers.
Sadly their bad press in recent years is partly due to productions that say more about the director than the opera, and singers from abroad who do not measure up to those more readily available in this country. So thank goodness for the fine cast in this Fiona Shaw production, first seen in 2011. Its single rotating set helps exhibit the busyness of the extensive Almaviva household on this crazy day (La folle journée in Beaumarchais’s original 1784 play).
The one overseas member of the cast was Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans as Figaro, showing charming vocal control in his ENO debut, well matched by the appealing vivacity of Rhian Lois as a resourceful Susanna, and their Act I duet got the opera off to an excellent start. As head of the household, Ashley Riches made a commanding, testosterone-fuelled Count Almaviva, ever the gentleman, and as his wife the Countess, Lucy Crowe was superb. Her lovely Act II soliloquy on the loss of the Count’s passion was a high point of the opera thus far, and she delivered a beautiful Act III memory of the love she once had. These four were well matched, all but Oliemans making role debuts, and their quartet towards the end of Act II was a delight.
Altogether a wonderfully strong cast with ENO Harewood artist Katie Coventry giving a wittily realistic performance as Cherubino, moving like a young man and resisting the tendency to play the role for laughs and overdo the improprieties in Act IV. In this production it is Barbarina (Alison Rose making a fine ENO debut) who gets paralytic after subtle video images and noises off have illustrated a jolly summer party in progress. As Marcellina, Janis Kelly was outstanding, and Keel Watson as her master Dr Bartolo delivered a nicely theatrical vengeance aria in Act I. The blind Don Basilio was splendidly sung by Colin Judson, the only cast member to have taken the same role in the previous revival, Alasdair Elliot made a very strong Don Curzio, and Paul Sheehan an engagingly bumbling Antonio the gardener.
Under the baton of music director Martyn Brabbins this was a musical delight, and revival director Peter Relton gave us a hugely effective staging with a slight twist at the end. Jeremy Sams’ translation is brilliant and I have rarely enjoyed Figaro so much.
Performances continue on various dates until April 14 — for details click here.