For opera audiences, Mozart‘s The Marriage of Figaro is a much loved classic, perhaps equivalent to a good version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the regular theatre-goer. It is an opera that is well known and cherished by many. But, as a recent opera convert, I had never watched it before Opera North brought it to The Lowry, Salford, as part of their new season, which has sadly been cut short, because of Coronavirus.
I honestly had no idea what to expect from The Marriage of Figaro (other than a wedding). I don’t read the programmes beforehand and so approach each opera with fresh eyes. I certainly would never have been able to dream up a plot so richly elaborate, complex, and downright hilarious as Mozart’s opera. It is a delightful evening of mirth and madness, from start to finish.
It is the morning of Figaro and Susanna’s wedding. Count Almaviva has made a generous gift to the happy couple, albeit with ulterior motives. When Figaro discovers that the Count wishes to seduce his bride-to-be on their wedding night, he and Susanna embark on a farcical game of deceit. Wires are crossed, there are plenty of outrageous disguises, husbands are made jealous, and a Yorkshire gardener is incensed at the destruction of his hydrangeas. Meanwhile, the Countess is heartbroken at her husband’s infidelity and decides to play a trick of her own to teach him a lesson.
“A husband who is jealous gets all that he deserves”.
That the entire plot takes place over a single day makes the opera even more absurd. Just when you think you have figured out the conclusion of a character’s storyline, Mozart throws an unpredictable curveball, keeping the audience constantly guessing and most importantly, hugely entertained.
Despite the chaotic madness of Mozart’s plot, superb direction from Jo Davies ensures that the opera remains slick. Entrances, exits, and hiding places are timed to perfection, fully capitalising on their comedic value. The chorus scenes are impressively bustling with excitement, action, and energy, with the entire production maintaining a breakneck pace, on which all farce relies.
The Marriage of Figaro is exquisitely performed by all. Phillip Rhodes is fantastic as Figaro, brilliantly rendering his character’s silver-tongued, duplicitous nature. It is evident that Fflur Wyn revels in playing Susanna as she emanates charm and mischievousness. Heather Lowe is also a joy to watch as the hapless young lover, Cherubino. Having previously seen her play Sesto in Giulio Cesare, there is no denying Lowe’s incredible dexterity.
Dutch baritone, Quirijn de Lang, endows Count Almaviva with deep sincerity and remorse, compensating for his passionate flights of jealousy, crucially adding complexity to a character who, in less skilled hands, could verge on becoming a pantomime villain. However, Máire Flavin eclipses all others in her astounding performance as the Countess. Flavin’s beautiful arias are profound lamentations, loaded with agonising loneliness, despair, and heartache, as she mourns the loss of her husband’s love.
I have to admit that I greatly admire Leslie Travers’ set designs. I will literally buy a ticket to watch any play if he has designed the set for it. It was what I anticipated most about The Marriage of Figaro, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. Travers’ set is spectacular, and is abundant with rich opulence. A gorgeous chandelier hangs above the stage; dominated by three enormous french windows, which are breathtakingly stunning when rain descends.
Travers’ set design is also remarkably flexible, allowing for rotation, and for the staircase to be repositioned to effectively create different settings. Most impressive is when the set is rotated. Throughout entire scenes, the supporting beams are exposed, starkly revealing the austere structure of the set. It may seem unusual for a set designer to do this, but Travers deftly utilises these beams as places for several characters to hide and eavesdrop in the opera’s riotous climax.
Although a little confusing when several people sing at the same time, I absolutely adore everything about The Marriage of Figaro. I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to watch this opera before its tour was cruelly cut short.
My heart goes out to everybody at Opera North during this difficult and devastating time. It has been an honour to discover opera through this wonderful company. I will definitely be back in the audience when all this madness is over.