The Marriage of Figaro, Welsh National Opera
If this opera was a movie being made today it would be called Barber 2, because it continues the story of
Mozart’s Rossini’s earlier blockbuster, The Barber of Seville.
The trailer would go like this: “All of your old friends are back for one more crazy adventure as our wily hero Figaro and his cunning little vixen of a sweetheart Susanna once more bewilder their lecherous boss The Count. Hang onto your hats for this ride of a lifetime where lies, traps, traps within traps, deceit, trickery, locked doors and sudden revelations make this one more Day of Madness. Coming soon – to an opera house near you.”
And that’s pretty much what you get. The plot would take all day to explain so let’s just say it manages to stay very funny with just enough emotional sensitivity to make it more ambitious than a simple comedy. But the plot’s numerous twists and turns are really only there to bring out the best in the characters.
In this production – set in 1930s Spain – easily the standout performance comes from Elizabeth Watts as Susanna. She’s captivating, sexy, witty, perky and proves herself a great comic actress here as she wafts about the stage putting on airs and graces way above her station. Luckily she can sing beautifully too.
David Soar as Figaro comes in a close second. He’s got a wonderful voice for the part and is totally believable as the steward who can run rings around his master – indeed around anyone who threatens to get in his way. He moves like a dancer, his body as sprightly and quick as his wits and – this is Spain after all – often underlines his moments of victory with a quick flourish of flamenco.
Also impressive is Dario Solari (great name for an opera singer) as Count Almaviva. In this production he’s given movie star glamour and arrives onstage looking like Clark Gable in tennis whites. Solari invests the count with far more emotional complexity than I expected. He is a certainly a skirt-chasing, dimwitted bully who likes throwing his weight around. But a different interpretation might paint him worse still – what is droit de seigneur (the right to sleep with any of his servant girls on their wedding night) if not class institutionalised rape?
But this Count also displays a softer side. He’s so racked with jealousy that we almost feel sorry for him and he begs for forgiveness even when he’s been tricked into acting the fool. He spends at least 75% of his time on stage bamboozled, and the other 25% trying to work out why he’s not in charge – like Counts are supposed to be.
The supporting cast all do a grand job. Patricia Orr is terrific as Cherubino the page – she spends most of the night wearing Tin Tin style plus-fours – and Stephen Wood leads the orchestra through some of the most beautiful music Mozart ever composed.
The 1930s setting allows minimalist cream interior sets – all very elegant and uncluttered – and when the action moves to the garden at night, some very effective use of sliding mirrored panels convinces us that the characters are all blundering around, completely lost and in the dark – much as they have been for the whole story, Figaro excluded.
The nicely posed wedding-photo ending promises a Happy Ever After future but are we really expected to believe that this bunch of love rats, serial liars and double-crossers won’t be at it again as soon as they get the chance? I don’t think so. I’d be worried if I was Susanna.
This latest WNO visit to Bristol has been quite something – and there are still more performances to come. Joyce El-Khoury has to win the Best Female Voice category for her Violetta in La Traviata. If you don’t see her now you’ll kick yourself when she’s an international star. Best Comic Performance goes to the unforgettable Donald Maxwell as the hilarious drunken music teacher Somarone in Berlioz’s quirky Beatrice and Benedict. But Best Opera – and this is the big one – goes to… (sound of envelope being opened)… Barber 2! Sorry, I mean The Marriage of Figaro.
La Traviata will be performed again tonight at the Bristol Hippodrome and The Marriage of Figaro will be performed again tomorrow.