James Ellis reviews The Marriage of Figaro, Welsh National Opera

February 18, 2020 by
With all honesty, this production of the Mozart opera is the one part of the Figaro season from 2016 by WNO that I really was not too fussed on seeing again. The premier of Figaro gets A Divorce was exciting and the Rossini Barber of Seville also happened to be very funny.
So what do we gain from this revival?
There were already changes to Tobias Richter’s production even before the curtain was raised (this revival directed by Max Hoehn). The overture originally saw the singers, laid back on stage preparing as if for the role, reading the score. I somehow remember that from this production and thankful this was not an idea executed again.
This Mozart opera has endearing qualities (I’m more of a Magic Flute fan), although much depends on the production and also the worth of the singers. It’s a good thing these cast members were great in the roles then.
The sets by veteran designer Ralph Koltai almost look unfinished, unhinged with huge panels that loom large over all on stage, also used for the other two operas in the Figaro season. The gaudy colour scheme is terrible, although thankfully the costumes are of the original period in which the opera is set. This is even more jarring then David Pountney’s work with WNO – the obsession of mixing the timeline of these opera does not always work and leaves the audience perplexed.
I’ll confess, I’ve never been a huge fan of this opera. Granted, Mozart did write some sublime music in this (the Countess has some ravishing arias and the Letter Duet is a firm favourite), but I find it to be far too long and some of the stiff humour belongs in the 18th century. I also noted that the chorus have very little to do when on stage, other than just offering the Countess flowers, passively aggressively praising the Count or just oohing and ahhing at the double wedding celebrations.
It’s the humour which really makes or breaks this opera and the audience need to have a good time with it.
The singers bring a lot of passion to these roles and this is what redeems this production. David Ireland is a standard Figaro, not really outstanding, but delivering some nice vocals. Soraya Mafi is a wonderful Susanna, with a great stage presence and vocal line of much regard. Leah-Marian Jones is the grand old dame Marcellina, with some lavish costumes and a super aria, with a smashing moment of interaction with impassioned maestro Carlo Rizzi (and the shimmering orchestra). Doctor Bartolo is taken by Henny Waddington, another funny addition to proceedings, with a robust voice and swift comic timing. The discovery the two of them make about Figaro in the third act is by far the funniest moment of the night.
In the trouser role of Cherubino, Anna Harvey portrays boyish charm and giddy lust in the role. Fine footed in vocals, it’s an odd character which could fall flat, though did not here. Jonathan McGover plays one of the biggest meanies in all of opera: Count d’Almaviva. It’s a bit of a cardboard cutout villain role and it’s strikingly different to his manner in the first play or the Rossini. McGovern does what he can and sings with mighty baritone energy. It is Anita Watson who shines here, as the Countess d’Almaviva. It’s a big, meaty role and even bigger costumes. I dare say, she along with Mafi both make this worth seeing. Her looks of disdain and concern are plastered on her face for most of the opera and we can empathise with her being married to a guy like the Count (keen to seduce Susanna before her marriage to Figaro). Richard Roberts also embraces some absurd facial hair and wig as Don Basilio, another useless villain though more comedic than harsh. His silly moments are welcome, though there is not really a great deal you can try out with this piffy role.
The Marriage of Figaro continues at the Wales Millennium Centre with performances of Carmen and Les vêpres siciliennes, then on tour.
Photo Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

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