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English National Opera, London

The Marriage of Figaro
4.0Reviewer'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.

  • Opera
  • By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte (translation by Jeremy Sams)
  • Director: Fiona Shaw (revival - Peter Relton)
  • Cast includes: Rhian Lois, Lucy Crowe, Ashley Riches, Thomas Oliemans
  • English National Opera, London
  • 04, 06, 10, 12, 14 April 2018

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Owen Davies was brought up in London but has Welsh roots. He was raised on chapel hymns, Handel oratorios and Mozart arias. He began going to the theatre in the 1960s and, as a teenager, used to stand at the back of the Old Vic stalls to watch Olivier's National Theatre productions. He also saw many RSC productions at the Aldwych in the 1960s. At this time he also began to see operas at Covent Garden and developed a love for Mozart, Verdi and Richard Strauss. After a career as a social worker and a trade union officer, Owen has retired from paid employment but is a student at Rose Bruford College studying for a BA in Opera Studies.

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One Response

  1. Mel Cooper

    I attended this Marriage of Figaro at the ENO on 12 April when the baton was taken over by Matthew Kofi Waldren. It should be noted that he is one of the winners of the Charles Mackerras Scholarship and that he is clearly a deserving winner. Note his name and watch out for him. After a slightly nervous start to the Overture that was a bit blurry on grace notes, he settled into leading a splendid performance musically. Everything Owen Davies says about the production is spot on and after a few performances the singers are more settled in acting their roles and conveying the characters they are playing.

    The two couples could not be better matched; the Countess (Lucy Crowe) and Susanna (Rhian Lois) convey their amity not only vocally but dramatically; Ashley Riches is a sexy, imposing and totally untrustworthy Count and one can easily see the tension between him and Thomas Oliemans’ charming Figaro; while Katie Coventry’s Cherubino is virtually perfect – she is dramatically very convincing as a teenaged and hormonal boy, she looks wonderful, and she has a blissful voice. This is an ideal, young team for this opera. Even the roles of Marcellina (Janis Kelly) and Bartolo (Keel Watson) are star parts in the way they are played and sung. I was also delighted by Collin Judson’s blind Bartolo, a fine conception for the character.

    And all this is doubtless down to the director of this piece, Fiona Shaw. She has obviously got a real understanding of both the text and the music and from beginning to end this is a witty and utterly moving interpretation full of illuminating touches that keep your attention. The revolving set of Peter McKintosh is a brilliant stand-in for a feudal castle and the village that lives within it. But the production is never busy for busy’s sake. Every movement, every extra actor, every moment is thought through and engages attention and thought. ASnd every chorus member seems to be a real character and part of a genuine community. Full praise also to revival director Peter Relton for his crisp, detailed work. I have nothing but praise for this production on every level, and for the performers and the conductor and the orchestra, certainly on the night I attended. The translation into English by Jeremy Sams is exemplary.

    I recommend this Marriage of Figaro highly so catch it if you still can. I hope it is revived over and over. And now I want to ENO to convince Fiona Shaw to take on Cosi Fan Tutte. She clearly has a deepand sympathetic understanding of Mozart and Da Ponte. For me this was a five star event.

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