Martin Lloyd-Evans’ staging of The Marriage of Figaro in Amanda Holden’s racy translation for Mid-Wales Opera is a clever affair. There’s no chorus; we have the traditional doubling of the tenor roles of Don Basilio and Don Curzio and of the bass roles of Dr Bartolo and Antonio; the last act arias for Marcellina and Basilio are, as usual, cut and the orchestral score has been reduced to chamber orchestra proportions by conductor Keith Darlington.
Because Bridget Kimak’s design has been conceived for a touring production it makes a fine virtue of this necessity. There’s a flexible raised platform, outlined by metal struts and punctuated by elastic panels to represent the doors within Almaviva’s country retreat. Think a simple greenhouse or a Victorian Wardian case with the opera’s characters as specimens for our contemplation, the pains contained in their humanity thus being as much of a shock as when a zoo-enclosed primate turns its intelligent gaze back on us.
The period is just before the First World War, a time which in retrospect can be seen to represent a society teetering on the rim of a volcano equally with that of the late 1780s. The Count becomes a shaven-headed junker and Figaro his batman. Basilio sports a green carnation in the buttonhole of his careful country-wear tweed suit, Cherubino is a white-flannelled teenager transformed reluctantly into an infantry officer and Bartolo is first formal in an impeccable frock-coat and then in Highland mess dress (why the latter I’m still not sure).
All this throws an unusually cold clear light on the characters, and the cast lives up to that. After a not-too crisp overture, the rough edges inherent in Dean Robinson’s portrayal of Figaro are there from the first exchanges with Kim Sheehan’s Susanna. Both sing and act extremely well – “Deh vieni” in the last act is beautifully phrased and both “Se vuol ballare” and “Non piu andrai” have their proper impact.
Lisa Crosato as the Countess makes her appearance framed by an outline window and with her wedding photograph behind her to underline the unhappiness which has overtaken her since that day. “Porgi amor” comes over less certainly than the next act’s “Dove sono”, which is delicately heart-rending. The tension over the increasing split between her apparent status and its painful actuality makes her two choices in the finale much more stark than usual. If Wyn Pencarreg’s Count also presents a façade, this is shattered first by his bullying of his wife and then by the raw energy of “Hai gia vinta”. The Count may only have been given one aria by his composer, but this singer dominates his every scene. He’s truly the boss from hell.
Both Simon Wilding as Bartolo/Antonio and Benjamin Segal as Basilio/Curzio have fun with their parts, and we enjoy them too. Pippa Goss, who sings Susanna in some performances, is a pert Barbarina, very much the peasant girl on the make. Katherine Allen is a chubby Cherubino, who puts over both “Non so piu” and “Voi che sapete” with considerable style. Gaynor Keeble’s Marcellina, rather oddly attired in a décolleté gown for her morning calls, has clear diction and a good sense of phrasing.