For the opera lover, Mozart and da Ponte’s The Marriage of Figaro needs little introduction. Full of wit, charm and style, the farcical plot takes place on the wedding day of Figaro to Susanna. Learning that Count Almaviva intends to enforce his right to sleep with Susanna as she is a woman in his court, Figaro conceives an elaborate plan to outfox his master. The scheme is complicated, however, by the arrival of Marcellina, who Figaro is contractually obliged to marry should he fail to repay an old debt. The ensuing madness, as each party tries to outwit the other, is comic opera at its best.
The Marriage of Figaro is an enduring masterpiece which surely will never lose its place as a staple of the classical repertory. As an exaggerated, magnified microcosm of real life, all successful opera should capture the essence of what it is to be human. Opera North’s production, sung in English to a very amusing translation by Jeremy Sams and directed with great sensitivity by Jo Davies, does precisely this.
From the very opening of Act 1, the audience are invited into the story by Leslie Travers’ clever use of angles in the set design, which focuses their attention on exactly what mattered. The set also enabled an exploration of depth that meant the drama never felt flat or two-dimensional. The intriguing design of the interior walls of the Count and Countess’ home did, however, give a sense that they were in dire need of a decorator, since paper was hanging from the walls in several places!
The timelessness of Figaro rests primarily in the ease with which its audiences can relate to the emotional turmoil of its characters. In this regard, it would be remiss not to mention the poignant realism of the Finale, in which the Count – sung with an appropriate gravitas throughout by Quirijn de Lang – begs the forgiveness of his wife for his mistakes.
As an ensemble opera, The Marriage of Figaro relies heavily on the blend of the performers’ voices together. There was no problem here in this production, in which the cast were supported with great balance and elegance by the Opera North orchestra, under the direction of conductor James Hendry. Hendry clearly had a great understanding of the score and paced the opera brilliantly throughout, giving space where necessary to allow the humanity of Mozart’s music to penetrate.
Phillip Rhodes’ dynamic performance as Figaro played perfectly against Fflur Wyn’s Susanna, who brought just the right amount of humour and lightness to the role. Also worth of note is Heather Lowe, who played excellently the page boy Cherubino who, in adolescence, gets himself into constant trouble pursuing the same women as the Count.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable take on a classic tale, and a rare occasion where the balance of wit and elegance is not lost in an English translation. Opera North’s Marriage of Figaro plays at The Lowry in Manchester until Saturday 14 March.