Brilliant Figaro on stage in Auckland
NBR New Zealand Opera
The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte from a work by Beaumarchais
Aotea Centre, Auckland June 3 – 13
This week Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro opens in Auckland and is likely to be a sell out season as it was in Wellington. It is a brilliant interpretation of the opera by director Aidan Lang.
The production is innovative, while staying within the bounds of the traditional and makes one realise that while it is an opera of the eighteenth century it is also one for the twenty-first century.
One of its great strengths is the uniform quality of the singing which sees Derek Hill in the minor role of Don Curzio giving a performance which is as convincing as the lead singers.
The opera tells the story of Figaro who is about to be married. He is a servant in the court of Count Almaviva who sees himself as one of the great liberals of Seville as he has repudiated the long established “droite de seigneur” at his court (the right of the nobleman to sleep with any newly married woman). However his temperament has not changed and he is intent on bedding Susanna, Figaro’s betrothed.
Most of the opera is concerned with thwarting the Count in his endeavours. But there are others who attempt to prevent Figaro marrying Susanna so that he will have to marry the older and less desirable Marcellina (with whom he has loan) who enlists the help of Dr Bartolo an old adversary of Figaro.
Nuccia Focile as the Countess was the major import for the show and her voice is one of the richest and most opulent we have heard on stage for some time. In many ways, like the Countess herself, she was diffrenet from the other singers. She sang with a pure classical voice and a restrained acting style which reinforced her role as a woman trapped within the conventions of the past.
But there were times when she managed to display her feelings as when she is overcome with emotion at the love song Cherubino sings to her.
The star of the show was Emma Pearson as Susanna who created a multi-layered character who exuded confidence, as through she were born to the role. When she was on stage she seemed to galvanize the rest of the cast, singing with a captivating freshens and liveliness.
She combined intense passion, frivolity and a guileless feminism with superb comic timing and a real sense of psychological insight. Her singing of “Il birbo e in sentinella” in the final garden scene was an exquisite and tender summation of romantic love.
Wade Kernot’s Figaro was nice mixture of the quick thinking and naïve, singing with a commendable natural ease. His “Bravo signor padrone” where he sings about the Count's designs on his future wife was sung with a mixt of agitation, bitterness and thoughtfullness which hints at the upper class / lower class divide which is at the core of the opera.
Riccardo Novaro was an excellent Count; severe and aloof but totally confused when outside his comfort zone. He was impressive with his razor-sharp singing and concise acting.
Wendy Dawn Thompson in the trouser role of Cherubino was a fine love-besotted youth. She carried the part with a luscious voice and effortlessly managed all the intricacies of acting that the part requires.
The generously bewigged Dr Bartolo sung by Gennadi Dubkinsky gave a fine acting display which complemented his impeccable voice and Helen Medlyn as Marcellina provided an engaging charcater part.
Richard Greager, Richard Green, Derek Hill and Alexandra Ioan all provided high quality singing and added immensely to the strength of the production.
Robert Rawstrone’s elegant, sparse sets of dazzling white walls were designed so that the moveable panels were able to create a variety of spaces punctuated by more doors than French farce. These variously sized rooms provided a clever way of separating out the multiple scenes which in most productions occur within the one space.
The final garden scene set however was a disappointment with its curved shapes which might have been inspired by Gaudi but looked more like a sci-fi creation.
While the smaller spaces were ideal for the main characters they were just too small when the Chapman Tripp Chorus piled in. They sang superbly but looked cramped and out of place.
Elizabeth Whiting’s costuming was impressive although the much publicized denim wear of the servants while cleverly designed clashed with the refined costumes of the main protagonists and the set.
The Vector Wellington Orchestra under Lionel Friend provided a sensitibe and well judged accompannmment to the opera, never intruding or dominating on the singing and always ensuring the music told its own story.