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Kiss Me, Figaro! (Riverside Studios)

Merry Opera's latest offering opened at the Riverside Studios last week

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Even Polonius at his most pompous would be hard put to categorise this entertaining, original piece which manages to be both opera and musical theatre as well as a play with a distinct whiff of romcom.

Joe and Daisy (played by Daisy Brown and Joe Morgan) are singers in a touring opera company. A year ago they were an item but it went wrong. Now that they're thrown together again in their work, things are a bit tricky. Of course, two and a half hours later, there's a Marriage of Figaro-style happy ending with a tantalising question mark over it. The script is by John Ramster who also directs.

Because this is the work of an opera company it is the singing which is paramount and very fine the quality is too with immaculate music direction by Stephen Hose who accompanies on piano from the side of the stage. The company in the story is rehearsing La Boheme so there's a lot of emphasis on Brown and Morgan as Rudolfo (tenor) and Mimi (soprano). Both are glitteringly good singers and they convey the tension between them touchingly as they gradually work their way towards reconciliation.

Along the way the talented company, whose ensemble work is delightful, rehearse for a gala, experiment with a wacky ‘concept' Mikado for ‘next year', sing jazz standards and occasionally burst into song simply because it fits the story such as the musical theatre numbers in the pub or Brown singing the lament from Rinaldo in her dressing room because she feels miserable. There are lots of opera jokes too including a clever and hilarious quartet rendering of a mixture of the duet from The Pearl Fishers and the famous bit from Lakme.

Kristin Finnegan, who has a deliciously old fashioned claret-rich contralto voice of which it would have been good to hear more, is strong as the divorced wife of Marcus Sherwood (Matthew Quirk) the company director. Quirk – like every one else in the cast of nine – is a fine actor who gives us, among other things, a lovely cameo of the quack doctor in L'elisir d'amore.

It's a clever way of presenting a lot of music drawn from 400 years of traditions and changing fashions. But Kiss Me, Figaro! is also good fun as a satisfying story which works pretty well in its own right.