ENO1718-The-Marriage-of-Figaro 01-c-Alastair-Muir
Alastair Muir

The Marriage of Figaro

Reviewer's Rating

The English National Opera’s revival of The Marriage of Figaro is a welcome success after recent troubles. Fiona Shaw, who was the original director of ENO’s current production, produced a staging that drives the action forward at a fast pace and creates a dynamic setting for the feast of musical highlights conjured up by Mozart and Da Ponte. With the fine cast assembled for this revival it proves to be an evening of music drama that does almost full justice to this wonderful opera.

Count Almaviva is tired of his wife and lusts after her maid Susanna. She is betrothed to Figaro, the Count’s valet, and the action takes place in the Count’s country house on the day of the intended marriage of the servants. The story tells how they, aided by the Countess, outwit the lustful Count. The peasants are revolting! Fiona Shaw, however, makes the core of her version the determination of the Countess to teach her unfaithful husband a lesson. This gives the performance a fresh dramatic force, though arguably it ignores the hint of repentance and forgiveness that is contained in the final scene of the opera.

Another strength of this intriguing production also lies in a splendid cast, four of them making role debuts. Ashley Riches has a rich bass voice and gives the Count the sort of dashing persona that makes his philandering less creepy than it sometimes seems. One reservation – he really should not have to sing the final scene in his underpants! The marvellous Lucy Crowe sings her first Countess. After a somewhat stiff first few phrases, she blossoms into the role and by the time we hear an exquisite Dove Sono the audience is under her spell. When she spurns the Count’s offer of his arm and slaps him, we know his come-uppance is near. And to complete the casting success, her partnership with Rhian Lois in her debut as Susanna is a joy. Lois – an ENO Harewood Artist – is a totally assured Susanna from her first appearance, teasing Figaro over his dim-witted misunderstanding about Almaviva’s intentions to her impersonation of the countess in the final scene.

Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans was a fine Figaro despite sometimes having to play second fiddle to Susanna. Another enjoyable debut performance comes from Katie Coventry as Cherubino – she is a spirited and sexy page boy who looks very likely to turn the heads of the village girls. And even in the minor roles ENO strikes gold with the superb Janis Kelly as Marcellina and Keel Watson as an unusually sympathetic Bartolo.

The set is a constantly revolving set of screens and staircases. Its virtue is that it enables the drama to flow without interruption – its drawback is that it occasionally interrupts the ensembles that are a highlight of Mozart’s genius. ENO music director Martyn Brabbins conducts with an obvious sympathy for the varied musical pace of Mozart’s magical score and the ENO orchestra sound in top form. A Figaro for 2018 and not to be missed.