Count Almaviva has given up his feudal right entitling him to sleep with the bride of any of his servants on their wedding night. The Count’s favourite servant, Susanna, is about to marry his valet, Figaro so he now regrets giving up this right. Realising that she is in danger, Susanna plots with Figaro, the Countess and page boy Cherubino, to avoid being seduced by the Count and show him up for what he really is. The various plots involve Cherubino dressing up as a girl, and the Countess and Sussanna swapping clothes and arranging an assignation in the garden. Much mistaken identity and misplaced jealousies ensue, finally being sorted out in time for everyone to celebrate Figaro’s wedding.
As the orchestra strikes up the first bars of the overture, under the expert conductorship of Anthony Negus, you know that you are in for a very enjoyable evening. The music is bright and as the curtain rises on Act 1 you are presented with a simple but effective set depicting a Spanish Palacio sometime in the 1930s. Figaro (David Soar), opens the opera with a confident and punchy delivery of ‘Five, ten, twenty’ as he is measuring up for his wedding bed. Susanna (Elizabeth Watts), plays the role of maid to the Countess, (Camilla Roberts), perfectly. The Count, (Dario Solari), is larger than life, arrogant and confident and has a powerful voice.
The action moves along at a fair pace, and the farcical situations are played out with great skill and wit; lots of opening and closing of doors, running to and fro and hiding under tables. It is great to see such a lively interpretation of the story and the comedy aspects are perfectly performed. Unlike many operas, only one aria is set in a minor key, so the score is uplifting and sparkling.
It is difficult to single out any one individual as all the cast are strong, and complement each other so well, from Figaro’s cheeky confidence to Cherubino( Patricia Orr) ‘s, interpretation of the randy page boy, who’s rendition of "You ladies who know what love is, is it what I'm suffering from?" in Act 2 is sublime. But for me, Elizabeth Watts as Susanna was spot on, with great comedy moments, perfect timing and a beautiful voice and all with so much energy, being on stage for almost the entire 3hrs and 20 minutes.
The set (designed by Paco Azorin, certainly helps to bring a modern feel to the story with simple but effective use of large mirrored flats and, unusually for opera, moody and soft lighting, and the subtle use of a follow spot. The idea of the mirrored flats closing in on the performers as the story ‘closes in’ on the Count is a great idea, but the execution could be a bit slicker, so as not to draw attention away from the performers. The surtitles could give a little more of the story, as the ‘bullet point’ translations leave gaps in the story, losing much of the innuendo and subtle comedy, if you do not know the full Italian translation of the score.
Apart from that though, all in all a great performance, directed by Lluis Pasqual, using the modern setting to lift the story and present a fresh, lively and enjoyable rendition of The Marriage of Figaro.