Le Nozze di Figaro

by Hairy McMungo (Primi Divi)

«From now on, Hairy McMungo wants to do things a bit differently. It’s going to take a lot of planning and organisation but these are areas in which a Scotsman always excels. As long as he’s not trying to organise difficult things like paying bills that is. Although Hairy McMungo obviously doesn’t read other people’s reviews before he writes his (p)review, the reviews do exist. Not that anyone has doubted Hairy McMungo’s integrity but Hairy thinks his (p)reviews might have more effect if they are posted before opening night, before anyone has seen it. Maybe some people might think Hairy McMungo has been to rehearsals and that’s how he knows but Hairy would just like to say he doesn’t go to rehearsals. They can be free but only if he pays about £100 a year. Which doesn’t really count as free to Hairy McMungo,

Speaking of free operas, there’s one on at the Royal College of Music soon. Hairy has his ticket and he might or might not be (p)reviewing it properly in the near future but since those of you reading this review are likely to be Mozart fans he thought you might like to know about it now. It’s Apollo et Hyacinthus so it’s probably one you’ve never seen before and there’s a Scotsman in it.

But getting back to the (p)review in hand, Le nozze di Figaro is special for several reasons although it doesn’t have a Scotsman in it but it will in the revival so you might want to wait until then if you’d like to save your Money and just see it once. It’s special because it’s the ROH’s first new production of 2006 and it’s their first Mozart production of Mozart’s anniversary year. It’s also part of the Beaumarchais series which began with that very odd Il barbiere di Siviglia (and Hairy does wish someone would write a decent version of the third in the trilogy, if no-one does it soon he might just write one himself set in a Scottish distillery and make it all about haggis hunting).

The new Le nozze di Figaro is a brilliantly sane new production directed by Scotsman David McVicar. Hairy McMungo feels very strongly that a production of Le nozze di Figaro needs as much sanity as possible because there’s so much madness in the plot. It’s one of the best operas in the world when you know what’s going on but it’s completely incomprehensible when you don’t. Hairy does know the opera backwards of course but even he was confused by the recent attempts by Glyndebourne on Tour and Garsington.

Erwin Schrott, who had a great success at the ROH as Leporello two and a half years ago, returns as Figaro. He has lots of physical energy, even when he’s still and if you heard the rumours Hairy McMungo heard about the beginning of the rehearsal period you’d have trouble believing them. He also has a good voice and timing of almost Highland perfection and he’s clearly a great match for Susanna even though she’s going to be the one wearing the breeches in this marriage. She was right to choose him over the Count.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the Count but he is a bit of a jessie. Gerald Finley clearly relishes playing the baddy but he’s not a baddy you hate. Everything goes wrong for him and it’s impossible not to laugh. Hairy was surprised to hear that Finley actually prefers the Count to Figaro, as the second role suits him so well but he is no less ideal for the Count. His singing could only be better if you added a Scottish burr.

Susanna is sung by Miah Persson, who is fairly attractive considering she wasn’t born in Scotland and much too good at putting men in their places. Hairy can’t quite understand how the Count dared to try it on with her, or how he dared to be unfaithful to Dorothea Roschmann’s lovely but not exactly vulnerable Countess. Her arias are touching but it’s very clear she’s going to win in the end. Hairy liked the end. He always likes to see the baritones on their knees.

Sophie Koch’s voice is on the heavy side for Cherubino but she’s wonderfully boyish and Graciela Araya and Jonathan Veira seem to enjoy themselves as Marcellina and Bartolo. Hairy McMungo can’t bring himself to be nice about Philip Langridge because he read an interview with Langridge in which he was complaining about how boring it was to sing Don Basilio. This makes Hairy McMungo cross as he would be happy to sing a wonderful role like Basilio. (Not for free though, although he doesn’t charge his new baby diva Caledonia when he sings it to her, not even when he does the actions.) You couldn’t tell how much Langridge hated being there but Hairy still hasn’t forgiven him. And as for Ian Bostridge saying Don Ottavio is boring which Hairy read about on the same day, well Hairy McMungo always thought Bostridge was an alien. He looks like the Mekon anyway.

The smaller roles were all brilliantly sung. Jeremy White got full comic worth out of Antonio and Ana James sang Barbarina’s aria beautifully although she didn’t show a great deal of interest in either Cherubino or the Count. Not that Hairy McMungo blames her. He wouldn’t either. Francis Egerton was a good Don Curzio, but you need a Scotsman to do the stutter really well. Not that Scotsmen stutter as a rule but it is something that happens to Hairy sometimes when he’s been drinking whisky so it is quite a familiar feeling to a Scot.»

And yet another review by Cunning Little Vixen (Primi Divi)…

«When the first half of an opera is ninety-seven minutes long, you usually know all about it long before that amount of time has elapsed. The arrival of the interval in Le nozze di Figaro, however, is more likely to provoke cries of: “The interval already?!”. David McVicar’s new Figaro at the ROH gives you the additional conviction that had cast decided to encore the whole of the first two acts (and the final two, for that matter), there would only have been more cheers.

The set doesn’t really appeal to me, but the performances are of such towering magnificence, that the set fades into the background. McVicar’s dirty set used in the first act might grow on me in time, but, at the moment, it seems at odds with the sparkling comedy. Il pino should not have seats and dressing room screens in, and the drunken Cherubino seems an unnecessary invention. The second half of Act Four is overflowing with comedy as it is, and Cherubino is more than capable of making passes at women without the stimulus of alcohol. However, the Countess’ bedroom is beautiful, and the precision in the physical direction offers almost continuous brilliance.

It is difficult to imagine a cast more perfect. Perhaps a perfect cast would have included a Marcellina who looked old enough to be Figaro’s mother – although she would ideally have the acting skills and the vocal and physical beauty of Graciela Araya, who, youthful as Erwin Schrott is, doesn’t look any older than her son. The perfect cast might also have included a Cherubino who seemed more vocally comfortable with the role than Rinat Shaham, but not many singers could beat her wonderful picture of gawky adolescence.

In the title role, Erwin is delightfully energetic and revelling in the comedy, but also very moving when he needs to be, and has a particularly nice line in looking pathetic. He’s also oozing with sex appeal, which is always highly acceptable. His Susanna is Miah Persson, gorgeous in both looks and voice. She was deliciously witty, with a sneaky way of charming your socks off (and probably the rest of your clothes) whilst still retaining an absolutely adorable innocence. I don’t blame the Count at all.

Speaking of the Count, Gerald Finley really is a revelation. When Gerald declared that he’d rather sing the Count than Figaro, I have to admit it, I thought he might be going prematurely senile. The Count is a good character, but Figaro runs rings around him literally and figuratively in intelligence, wit and energy, not to mention having better music. Right? Wrong. Gerald shows there was far more to the character than I ever suspected. His Count is a vicious, violent and a very naughty man (also not lacking in sex appeal) but somehow he is also a very pathetic and vulnerable man, who tries so hard to stay in control but somehow always ends up a complete, humiliated mess. It happened time and again throughout the opera, and even though I laughed at the Count every time, I did kind of want to give him a hug too. (Although I’d need to keep a very stern eye on where he put his hands.)

With such an unusually sympathetic Count, the role of the Countess becomes even more difficult, especially since, in this production, the Count definitely has good reason to worry about his wife’s relations with Cherubino. But nothing seemed too big a challenge for Dorothea Roschmann. Although only recently graduated from Susanna to the Countess, she is vocally ideal for the role: thrillingly warm in tone with top notes to make you catch your breath (and I’m not usually a top note sort of person). Her acting is equally effective: as well as offering two thoroughly moving arias, there was enough girlish hope in them to reconcile her with the giggling young girl who participates so enthusiastically in Susanna’s and Figaro’s plans.

The production also has an Antonio and Barbarina, who, in addition to being vividly characterised individually, have a very realistic onstage rapport. Jeremy White loses none of Antonio’s comedy by singing beautifully, and Ana James, as a sweet and perpetually smiling Barbarina, sounds as though she would not disappoint if she had to take over the role she was covering: Susanna. Philip Langridge (great fun as Don Basilio) and Graciela Araya gave welcome renditions of their rarely-performed arias, each winning enthusiastic and well-deserved applauses. And didn’t slow the action down one bit. Jonathan Veira’s Bartolo, with roving hands to compete with the Count’s, also gave a very strong performance: McVicar’s decition to let him stay in the room for Susanna and Marcellina’s first bitch fight was inspired. Francis Egerton is an unusually dignified but still very enjoyable Don Curzio, and the ROH Chorus provided a lovely pair of Bridesmaids in Glenys Groves and Kate McCarney. Antonio Pappano conducts a ROH orchestra which almost seems to be making jokes of its own.

It really was perfect – but don’t rush out and buy tickets until I’ve had a chance to buy some more for myself.»

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