Le nozze di Figaro (ROH, 7 May 2014)
Everybody who cares must know this production by now. A straight-forward crowd-pleaser, nothing to keep you up at night thinking what must that mean? No sinks, no nudity but a bit of rolling around on the floor to remind us it’s slapstick after all. They played up the physical angle last Autumn but it felt like they upped it up even more this time. Something along the lines of what went on with Pelly’s super-popular La fille du regiment. The crowd wasn’t complaining; I wasn’t either, I’m easily amused1.
- Figaro: Alex Esposito
- Susanna: Camilla Tilling
- Cherubino: Anna Bonitatibus
- Count Almaviva: Gerald Finley
- Countess Almaviva: Rebecca Evans
- Bartolo: Christophoros Stamboglis
- Marcellina: Marie McLaughlin
- Don Basilio: Guy de Mey
- Don Curzio: Timothy Robinson
- Antonio: Jeremy White
- Barbarina: Dušica Bijelić
Conductor: David Syrus | Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
We’re at the end of the second leg of the nth revival of McVicar‘s 2006 production. Last leg played in September/October with a different cast2 + Gardiner, which did a very good job. If you check out the credits you can spot right away why I booked a ticket for this leg as well: Boni’s back! Beggars can’t be choosers, so I’ll take a two aria role over nothing. Especially if said two aria role is in such a fun opera. Can you get tired of Nozze? I guess you can. I haven’t yet, even if the production is 8 years old.
In September I had a seat on the left of the stage, a position that afforded me a very good view of the singers unless they were at the far left of the stage, which meant I missed Cherubino being discovered by the Count. The sound, unfortunately, was muffled. I also think the left ear is my weaker one3, so ever since then I made a point of getting tickets to the right of the stage.
The slips were as usual – and especially at very popular shows such as Nozze – full. No sooner did one of the servants start to mop the floor to the tune of the overture than a lady from the row behind bent over our row to tell two love birds at the front not to sit so close to each other as her line of view was being blocked. No heart for romance… Easy for me to say, they weren’t nesting in front of me.
Whilst Figaro – Esposito with hair! – was playfully measuring Susanna, the kindly old chap next to me poked at a member of the younger generation with his program because he was leaning forward. Remember the dorky wig they gave Schrott in the original production? They whipped it out for Esposito; last leg Pisaroni escaped with his usual hair. I wonder if opera singers have things like this stipulated in the contracts? Some of them get the oddest wigs, others seem to always sport their own hair – for better or worse. I think I spent about 5min wondering how they glued the wig to Esposito’s bold skull. Anyway, Esposito projected well. He’s a more vicious Figaro than Pisaroni (who’s a goof) and his voice has a darker edge and less colours. His interaction with Susanna was less imaginative than Pisaroni’s. His idea of playfulness reduced to trying to tickle her whenever the direction called for intimacy. However the above viciousness came through when he kicked the toolbox and the Count’s boots across the stage. Strong legs, mate.
I was mildly enjoying Marcellina and Susanna insulting each other4 when a long arm extended over my head to call the lady next to me to attention – again for leaning. We almost had a life imitates art moment as they exchanged hushed barbs. By the time Cherubino showed up not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Now I usually like my Cherubinos bright voiced but I can work with those whose balls have dropped, if they sing as well as Boni does. It was a bit disconcerting to see her ham it up after that soulful and very tormented Sesto. In this production Cherubino is properly childish and has it pretty rough – there’s a lot of creeping on the floor but Boni was a trooper. He’s not meant to be seductive, rather cute and confused. Boni’s was all that, except with a much darker voice than usual. It worked, teenage can be odd like that – head dunk into the Countess’s clean linen basket and all. Cherubino’s interaction with Susanna worked very well, she seemed like an amused big sister to him.
Gerald Finley was back as the Count, playing him as a particularly slow on the uptake pompous arse. There was no dangerous edge to his Count, implying this Almaviva didn’t even think he needed to be threatening since he already owned everything and everyone. He came in all hey, Susanna, how ya doin’? and looked like a proper dumb arse when he blew his cover over hearing that “everybody knew” Cherubino was making eyes at his wife. As he pulled the cover on the little culprit it took him a very long moment to catch on why everybody looked shocked. Ha ha! Excellent. I always thought the Count was a self important moron rather than a sadist. Tilling played Susanna as a kitten with claws whilst in the Count’s presence. Her singing wasn’t bad but not all that.
Figaro returned with his passive-aggressive come on, Count, get us married already! The Count managed to postpone the ceremony without outright saying no. He continued to look foolish as he stood on the bed, surrounded by flower girls. Whilst Figaro teased Cherubino with Non piu andrai the stage hands got the Countess’s bedroom in place behind Figaro and Susanna’s room. It was cool watching it “unfold”, as side walls rolled in from each side whilst the back came forward.
Rebecca Evans’ Countess spilled out of the boudoir whilst a bunch of her servants were waiting in the bedroom. Satisfied that the Countess looked presentable, the servants left. She launched into Porgi, amor, which showed off rather acidic top notes. Her pianos were not bad except I thought she finished them a bit sudden. Her interactions with Susanna, Figaro and Cherubino were pretty funny. However when the Count showed up and eventually asked her to leave the room with him I thought she wasn’t dramatic enough.
Boni rolled in for a very fine (and goofy) rendition of Voi che sapete which got a lot of applause and with good reason. She dressed it up with her inventive and idiomatic ornaments so that we didn’t have to think oh, cute, but Flicka sealed the deal on this canzone 40 years ago. Alas, after this I had to wait until the garden scene at the tail end of Act IV for a bit more singing from her. Come on, ROH, bring her back in some Handel.
Quick run-down of the rest:
Long story short, Maestro lost his reins on the singers during the Act II finale and they ended up sounding all over the shop. Later on, during the sextet where Marcellina and Bartolo are revealed as Figaro’s parents, Don Curzio managed not to blend in at all – and was off key throughout but marched on regardless! You know it was bad if I could tell. Here and there there was a buzzing sound from the pit which I didn’t remember from before. Sounded like a lawnmower. Now I understand singers having an off day and am not against lawnmowers being secreted away in the pit – as long as they blend in.
There’s also that bit in Dove sono where the tempo speeds up and sopranos are occasionally overtaken by the orchestra. That happened last night. I’m not totally blaming Evans, I believe Roschmann5 had to catch up as well on the DVD; it’s a tricky moment between emotion and tempo. But Maestro could’ve made it appear less jarring. Yet it wasn’t a bad Dove sono and Evans sounded much better than on Porgi, amor (less acidic at the top).
Finley rocked the Count’s huh, has Susanna tricked me? aria and the crowd loved it, too. I watched JDD coach somebody on youtube how to do this aria and it was a lot of fun following it step by step live with a properly moronic Count. I think I love Finley’s voice, I may need to listen to his stuff some more. Or maybe he’s one of them that sound better live? I wasn’t quite as taken with his voice before and I’ve heard him in a couple of things. I got a kick out of the Count’s spinning the perpetuum mobile whilst pondering on the events of the day, as if to spark up the light bulb in his head. Ha ha. Finley’s is my kind of Count, I liked him way better than Maltman’s.
Good times, I tells ya. Hard to go wrong with Mozart and I hope never to come back with such a report.
- Who am I kidding? I worship Benny Hill… ↩
- Luca Pisaroni as Figaro, Lucy Crowe as Susanna, Maria Bengtsson as the Countess, Renata Pokupic as Cherubino and Christopher Maltman as the Count. ↩
- That’s headphones for ya… ↩
- The moment needed a bit more bite. ↩
- Is she not singing the Countess anymore? Come baaaaaack… ↩