Opera in Song: The Marriage of Figaro

Reviewer's rating

Bringing the much revered “Opera in Song” series to a close was Holland Park’s homage to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. In this final recital, soprano Louise Alder and baritone Julien Van Mellaerts guided audiences through an evening of songs honouring the sentiment of the opera’s four acts. With each section prefaced by a theme: “Domestic Bliss”, “Deception and Loneliness”, “Seduction and Betrayal”, and “Forgiveness and Celebration”, the program’s arc traced love’s quarrels with charm. Accompanied most assuredly by pianist Simon Lepper, each song’s nuance was realised.

The first act weaved through French, English, German, and Italian repertoire: a rich tapestry of European colour. This multi-lingual program boasted the prowess of both singers and reminded audiences of opera’s international reach. Each song was executed with charismatic interpretation, further typifying each character the song was to depict. The Schumann songs, in particular, “Ich denke dein”, was a showcase for both voices, where Alder’s soprano jibes interjected Van Mellaerts’s musical propositions playfully. Puccini’s “A te”—one of the composer’s works to have paled before the formidable reputation of his vast operatic corpus—was a refreshing gem to program. Complemented by Lepper’s attentive pianism, where the clear voicing of Puccini’s score is absolute, the work’s playful antiphony shone. Alder’s luminous soprano hovered delicately above the accompaniment. For Van Mellaerts, Vaughan Williams’s “The Roadside Fire” served as the baritone’s primary success: projection and diction punctuated the narrative with ease. 

The program’s highlight, however, was Alder’s performance of two lesser-performed works: Amy Beach’s “Ah, Love But a Day”, and Copeland’s “Heart, We Will Forget Him”. Above Beach’s simple piano accompaniment, Alder’s glorious soprano was at its most beautiful. The delicacy of the lines swelled and subsided with second-nature crescendi, as did the phrasing of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s text. What’s more, Alder’s distinctive tone was accentuated by her crisp diction: a testament to her abounding talent. As for the Copeland—an arrangement of Emily Dickinson’s poem—Alder channeled the text’s pathos into a genuinely compelling performance.

The blending of Van Mellaerts’s baritone and Alder’s hovering soprano only further shone as the program progressed. In Quilter’s “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains”, the colour and richness of both voices elevated the arrangement. As a staple in the English repertory, the Quilter is rarely performed as a duet, making this performance all the more significant. Lehar’s “Lippen Schweigen” from The Merry Widow was the concluding piece, with the pair delighting audiences with their playful mid-song waltz. After flirting with operetta, Alder and Van Maellerts’s encore—”La chi da rem la Mano”—continued to showcase their performative chemistry dancing and acting through the audience. Alder’s final off-stage sprint—in high heels, no less—is alone worthy of applause.