Le nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden, London WC2
by Hilary Finch (The Times)
London always feels better when David McVicar’s Figaro is back. The torments, caprices and follies of this opera’s single day metamorphose delightfully with changing casts and conductors. But the elderly, slightly daffy cleaning lady from this highly individuated chorus is always there — busy among the heavily burdened female servants in the overture, finally getting to dance with Figaro, taking the final bow, and embodying the deep and shrewdly observed humanity of this production.
The woman, face upturned, catches the falling-leaf confetti as the fast spin of the plot suddenly turns to slow motion, the sky darkens for Barbarina’s little aria (plangently sung by Amanda Forsythe), and the bosky canopy of dusk descends. This is just one of the staging’s special moments; another this time round is McVicar’s cunning and witty tweaking of the disguise scene in the garden, making the most of the strikingly discrepant heights of this Susanna and this Countess.
And, in this second revival, it is very much a singers’ Figaro. Last time Charles Mackerras tuned the ear excitingly to the orchestra’s nerve-system. Now, Colin Davis, with broader, more sweeping tempos, and more ballast in the bass, gives the singers a Rolls-Royce to ride in — and they seem to love it. His conducting and the orchestral playing is marvellous support for the Jette Parker Young Artist Eri Nakamura in her glowingly and intelligently sung Susanna, refreshingly free of coyness, yet both feisty and wonderingly wide-eyed.
Her Figaro is the one who created the role when the production was new in 2006: the formidable Erwin Schrott who, in superbly cultivated voice, has a knowing, dignified and often very amusing sense of self-possession and a vocal depth that, in Act IV, can find the true darkness of despair.
His counterpart in the struggle for male self-awareness is the Count of Mariusz Kwiecin, a rabid hunter, filling his own inner vacuum with a virtuoso anger and violence that can make body and voice quiver from top to toe. His is a more engaging performance than Annette Dasch’s Countess (pictured with Mariusz Kwiecin) in a vocally tense, though powerful, house debut.
The pleasing Cherubino of Jurgita Adamonyte needs more close-focus detail of the type we splendidly see in the vintage double-act of Robert Lloyd’s Bartolo and the Marcellina of Marie McLaughlin, her soprano as fresh as that of any Susanna half her age.
It’s worth mentioning the forthcoming cast changes this time too: later in the run look out for Jacques Imbrailo’s Count, Soile Isokoski’s Countess — and the excellent David Syrus, responsible for this production’s music preparation, taking over the baton from June 20.