Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro is a perennial favourite among opera fans, and David McVicar’s acclaimed 2006 production has returned to the Royal Opera House for its fourth revival. It is a quaint, farcical opera buffa set over the course of a single day, focusing on the marriage of servants Figaro and Susanna as they try to outsmart their master, the seducing Count Almaviva. It is a very human story of love, suspicion and loyalty; themes that contemporary audiences can relate to.
The Overture is rightly famous, and the staging humorously portrays the troublesome servants. The first act is set in Figaro and Susanna’s partially furnished room, which the Count has ‘generously’ given them as a wedding gift, along with an ornate bed, which Susanna expects, is for a rather wicked purpose. There is a good chemistry between the lovers. English soprano Lucy Crowe is an engaging, lovable Susanna with a sweet voice, while Luca Pisaroni is strong as Figaro. His rich bass voice resonates gloriously and he portrays the emotional torment of the dedicated Figaro well. Spot on performances.
Figaro is pitted against his master, Count Almaviva, portrayed as a libidinous bully by Christopher Maltman who not only sings the role faultlessly, but finds a whole range of colours in the character.
The role of hormonal, lusting teen Cherubino whose urges get him into trouble is played by the brilliant Renata Pokupić. Don Basilio, the effete and interfering music master, is hilariously played by Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, and the witchy, conniving Marcellina is a superbly vivid Helene Schneiderman.
Stealing the show, though, is the divine Maria Bengtsson as the loyal, loving Countess Almaviva. Her rendition of the aria in act three, ‘Dove sono’, is hauntingly performed and perfectly sung in a hushed tone that weaved like silk around the auditorium of the audience and quite rightly brought the house down. Entertaining, the focus of the piece shifts from one character to another, with none of them especially coming out on top, but Bengtsson’s Countess was the enduring presence in all four acts that brings heart and sincerity to the piece.
Le nozze di Figaro is the perfect combination of light, entertaining comedy and the genius of Mozart’s music. With a touching libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, it is not hard to see why this is one of the most commonly performed operas. McVicar’s direction has created a defining version of this opera that flows effortlessly, never feels static and doesn’t take itself too seriously. John Eliot Gardiner keeps the opera bright and pacey, and his innate knowledge of the piece is in evidence in the perfect sound the Royal Opera House Orchestra make.
Tanya McCallin’s ornate sets make full use of the huge stage, and allow for delightfully slick scene changes. Subtly lit by Paule Constable, the chateau interior is a perfect backdrop for the well-staged scenes.
That said, McVicar’s production is nothing all that surprising. Everything is in its right place, as one would expect from a fourth revival at Covent Garden. The sets and costumes are rich, the cast is backed by a vibrant and energetic ensemble, and Mozart’s score is allowed to flow effortlessly.
However, the period treatment is little more than charming and setting the piece in 1830 means the political undertones are lost. While the piece is entertaining, it does begin to drag in the final act. Doubtless, the piece will make you smile, but audiences would be forgiven for expecting a little more bang for their buck.
Le nozze di Figaro is playing selected dates at the Royal Opera House, until 7 October. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo © ROH / MARK DOUET.