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Susan Bickley (Marcellina) and Richard Wiegold (Doctor Bartolo). Pictures: Richard Hubert Smith

The Marriage of Figaro

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

AS PART of Welsh National Opera’s Figaro Forever season, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro holds all the elements for a perfect entertaining night.

It’s story centres on comedic motifs of trickery and foolishness, woven into Mozart’s bouncy and fun music, along with a lively English translation by Jeremy Sams.

The production is a feast for the eyes, from Ralph Koltai’s elaborate and impressive set design and dramatic scene changes to the smallest detail of costume. Director Tobias Richter has a keen eye for the meticulous and it serves the production well.

The opera’s concept is that the story of Figaro and his love Suzanna is a play within a play. In an enticing pre-set, the cast were dressed in modern clothing, warming up with stretches, mingling with each other.

There was a giant chest that took centre stage and when the excellent WNO Orchestra struck up the overture under conductor Lothar Koenigs, the cast took out eighteenth century costumes ready to start their performance.

In theory, this added an interesting layer to the production and alluded to a common form given to the genre of comedy. As we all know, Shakespeare uses it in many of his comedy plays. When executed, the short pre-set felt incredibly rushed and we did not see the back story played out enough for us to understand the play within a play concept.

Nonetheless, it by no means had a negative effect on the performance itself, so the added pre-set was merely a tiny matter of audience preference.

Like many traditional comedies, the story involves two lovers, Figaro and Suzanna. They serve the count and countess Almaviva. As Figaro and SuSuzannazanna prepare for marriage, their progress is not entirely smooth. It is hard to describe the plot entirely, as the main themes involve trickery on every level. Nobody knows the truth of another’s cunning and of course, letters and disguise is involved. Like all good comedy stories, the plot comes together in the end and the tricks are resolved.

The cast were impressive in all parts and accommodated Mozart’s beautiful music to the highest degree. Nobody put a foot, or note, out of place and the commitment to entertain the audience at every moment was clear.

 Anna Devin (Susanna).

The performers had a blast on stage and their exuberance captured the imagination of the audience. The joviality and happiness was certainly contagious. With Mozart’s plot of trickery and falsehood, everyone played an equal part to help drive the story along.

The main protagonist was Figaro, played by David Stout. He gave a young charm to suit his wondrous and slightly naïve character of the young newlywed. He was perfectly accompanied by the brilliant Anna Devin who played his soon to be wife, Suzanna. Devin’s soprano voice was a treat to hear. In every number she performed, Devin always stayed true to her charming womanly character.

Other great performances also helped drive the story along. Doctor Bartolo and Marcellina were a fantastic comedy double act, played by the larger than life Richard Wiegold and Susan Bickley. Their big and perhaps almost caricature costumes helped with creating their bumbling and funny approach and the direction of great timing and precision had the audience laughing at all their scenes.

The concept of Cherubino was interesting. Naomi O’Connell stepped into the character of the page boy with wonderful charm and instantly made the audience fall in love with her Cherubino. Her portrayal of the lost soul was beautifully done, singing in a soprano voice and characterising the part of the boy not yet a man. She also had the audience in stitches playing the gender swap.

This was all to the backdrop of Mozart’s incredible score, which would have provided a marvellous evening on its own, with WNO adding layer upon layer to create a stellar production

Tobias Richter has done well to focus on the detail of Mozart’s complicated and intricate plot. He tells the audience that it is ok not to understand the plot entirely, but gives us a worldly view about human interaction, jealousy and love. Through the light hearted themes of comedy, Richter’s incredibly cheery approach to the fun comedy made for a great entertaining night.

Elizabeth Halpin

02-03-16 

WNO

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