Last Updated on January 10, 2022
David McVicar’s production of The Marriage of Figaro is still a hot ticket
Despite the trials and tribulations caused by the Covid pandemic, the Royal Opera House managed to stage some magnificent productions in 2021. We particularly enjoyed La Traviata, Jenufa and Tosca (see our reviews). So as 2022 opened into what is still a precarious moment for the performing arts, it was wonderful to be able to go to Covent Garden to see a revival of David McVicar’s 2006 production of The Marriage of Figaro with a full house and appreciative audience.
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, Figaro is a four-act comic opera written in 1786. It takes its inspiration from Beaumarchais’s 1784 play ‘La folle journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro’, with its sequel ‘Le Barbier de Séville’ still popular in Rossini’s operatic adaptation ‘The Barber of Seville’. With rave reviews from its first performance, The Marriage of Figaro has been consistently ranked as one of the greatest of all operas both by performers and audiences.
The narrative is driven by Count Almaviva’s attempts to assert his ‘Droit de Seigneur’ over his servant Susanna on the day of her wedding to Figaro, the Count’s steward. In the opening scene, Susanna, played by Giulia Semenzato, explains to her fiance Figaro (Ricardo Fassi) that the Count is planning to renege on his commitment to giving up the ‘Droit de Seigneur’ – and that she is his target. They are a perfectly matched couple on stage, despite coming from markedly different backgrounds – Fassi gained an interest in opera through a love of heavy metal and is a true basso cantabile with a richness of bass tone combined with a gorgeous melodic sense; while Semenzato graduated from the Schola Cantorum in Basel specialising in Baroque music and has a light elegance to her sound, perfect for Mozart.
The Count, Germán E. Alcántara, an ex-Jette Parker young artist, is a replacement for the originally cast Davide Luciano who withdrew in mid-December. Germán took on the role confidently, his acting is strong and his lyrical baritone is well balanced. The Countess, played by Federica Lombardi, has a great stage presence and a powerful lyric soprano voice, but in her opening aria, Porgi Amor seemed constrained. By Act Three we had a more open and relaxed ‘Dove Sono i Bei Momenti’ but this is a tear-jerking moment, where for me the tears never came. However, in the duet with Susanna, Sull’Aria, the two female leads’ voices meshed beautifully.
Over the course of one day in the Count’s palace in Seville in the 1820’s we see how Susanna, Figaro and Countess Almaviva plot to thwart the Count’s plans with the aid of the Count’s young page Cherubino charmingly played by mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp. Despite expressing confusion in a light and lyrical rendition of ‘Voi che sapete’ at the start, he/she ends up happily paired up with the wild child Barbarina played by Helen Withers despite attempts to remove him by Don Basilio, the music teacher (Gregory Bonfatti).
The Count attempts to fight back by insisting that Figaro should marry a much older woman, Marcellina (played by Monica Bacelli), but it transpires that she is fact Figaro’s mother while her employer, Dr Bartolo (Gianluca Buratto), is his father.
Through the machinations of Susanna and Countess Almaviva, Figaro marries his bride and Marcellina marries Bartolo and the Count is even forced into blessing the union by putting on Susanna’s veil.
That’s not the end of the story though. Act 4 opens with a distraught Barbarina looking for a pin that she’d been given by the Count to pass on to Susanna. Figaro chances upon her and, finding the pin, jumps to the conclusion that Susanna and the Count are planning a tryst. As the lights come up over the audience, he sings to everyone “Tutto è disposto” – “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi” proclaiming that all women are sirens who only want to draw men in with their voices before tearing them apart. Fassi characterises Figaro as loveable and charming, singing with a light lyrical basso cantante throughout.
Susannah appears and sings “Deh vieni, non tardar”, beautifully executed and showcasing her light lyric soprano, while later in Act 4 her duet with Figaro, “Pace, pace, mio dolce tesoro” showed how well cast this production was.
What made this revival of David McVicar’s 2006 production so special was the level of detail throughout the show. Even during the overture, the scene was being set by the cast. Everyone on stage was convincingly immersed in the performance and the acting was on a par with the music with the farce-like comedic elements brilliantly dispatched.
Music Director of The Royal Opera Antonio Pappano conducted the band for tonight’s performance with a fast pace and tidy articulation while the continuo was immaculately precise. With design by Tanya McCallin, lighting design by Paul Constable and movement direction by Leah Hausman this was a wonderful production and a worthy revival of David McVicar’s original staging which still seems relevant in the present-day #Metoo climate.
The Marriage of Figaro runs from 9–27 January 2022
This performance lasts about 3 hours 40 minutes, including one interval of 30 minutes
Royal Opera House,
London, WC2E 9DD