Le Nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, review

by Rupert Christiansen (Telegraph)

Underpinning this hugely enjoyable revival of Mozart’s comic masterpiece – surely a far wiser and truer thing than the over-rated Così fan tutte – is the glorious conducting of that unlikely octogenarian Sir Colin Davis.

The secret magic his baton works is actually quite simple. He doesn’t seek to analyse or dominate the music. Instead, he gently loves it and warms it, letting every phrase breathe easy, honouring both its edge of mature melancholy and its bursts of youthful exuberance. Nothing is forced, nothing rushed, nothing ugly, and if there is the odd orchestral fluff or loss of ensemble, the unflustered Sir Colin brings it quietly to rights.

David McVicar’s fluent and elegant staging offers in many respects a fine complement. It isn’t ideal: even though Tanya McCallin’s designs evoke the period with a sharp eye, I’m not convinced that updating the setting to the 1830s adds anything to the libretto, and the first act in particular is overloaded with heavy-handed business, that leads some of the soloists and flotilla of supernumeraries into patches of arch overacting.

But more importantly, McVicar understands that this is an opera about the breaking-up of a social system, and the sense of servant bristling against master is powerfully rendered, as is the bustle, gossip and eavesdropping of a large aristocratic household. Patches of hyperactivity seem a small price to pay for the overall vitality on stage.

Star of the show is undoubtedly the charismatic Erwin Schrott as Figaro. Not just a handsome face and a vivid stage personality, he is also a forceful, thoughtful singer who makes the text crackle with implication.

This Figaro is not the amiable, galumphing dolt we often see, but someone on the qui vive, burningly ambitious and ready to take control, For once, he seemed far more assertive than his Susanna, nicely but daintily played by Eri Nakamura, who struck her best vocal form with a beautifully poised Deh vieni non tardar.

Mariusz Kwiecien sang crisply and firmly as the Count, even if his characterisation seemed melodramatic and excessively villainous. Annette Dasch presented a humanly credible Countess – restless, attractive, sensitive. Vocally, she was more successful with Dove sono than with Porgi amor. Jurgita Adamonyte made a promising debut as Cherubino, Peter Hoare’s mincing Basilio was sharply observed, and Amanda Forsythe was an enchanting little Barbarina – I bet we’ll be hearing more of her.

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