Le nozze di Figaro, Nevill Holt Opera, NHO, June 2018

Nevill Holt has finally come of age with its new opera house, following Oliver Mears’ revelatoryTosca last year in the now-vanished temporary structure. Mears is now artistic director of Covent Garden, and Nevill Holt a substantial presence on the country house opera scene.

All images NHO/ Robert Workman

The outside of the new 400-seat theatre exhibits a substantial, almost church-like presence that originated with the buildings of a historic stable block courtyard. The inside with its broad stage and U-shaped auditorium accommodates everything from orchestra pit to stalls to the upstairs balcony area, with excellent sight-lines and a wonderful acoustic.

Marriage of Figaro on opening night featured an unusually youthful cast in an excellent staging by up-and-coming director Joe Austin. Attractive white movable walls and trellises served the whole opera, starting with the busy comings and goings in the Almaviva household on this crazy day (Beaumarchais’ folle journée). Under the excellent baton of Nicholas Chalmers — who is also the artistic director! — orchestra and cast gave a robust and energetic performance, with American bass-baritone Lawson Anderson a resourceful Figaro of elegantly dark phrasing. He was terrific.

Susanna and the Countess dressing Cherubino

His feisty Susanna, very prettily sung by Aoife Miskelly, showed a strong will in this production, even knocking him over in Act III when she finds embracing his long-lost mother. Count and Countess too were strong-willed characters, with multi-prize winning James Newby as an unusually young looking Count, whose firm baritone added to his fine stage and vocal presence, and Sky Ingram a bold and elegant Countess, if missing the gentle introspection when she muses on her apparently loveless marriage.

Susanna knocks Figaro over: Marcellina, Don Curzio, Count and Bartolo behind

Excellent contributions from Anna Harvey as the outrageously eager Cherubino, who interacted extremely well with Susanna and delivered a very fine aria in Act II about needing love rather than sorrow and despair, Rowan Pierce as a delightful Barbarina, and Stephen Richardson and Joan Rodgers providing a welcome mature presence as Bartolo and Marcellina. Wonderful ensemble singing under the baton of Nicholas Chalmers conducting the Northern Sinfonia. Lovely costumes by Ilona Karas, and I loved small details in the staging such as the adornment of the pillars in Simon Kenny’s sets and the gentle dancing in the wedding scene of Act III, warmly lit by Matt Haskins.

Marriage at last

In their wonderful new theatre, Nevill Holt Opera is providing a super opening for young talent, along with outreach to schools, and has just started a new partnership with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, with further performances of this opera at Sage Gateshead on July 4 and 6.

Performances at Nevill Holt continue on various dates until June 21 — for details click here.

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