The Marriage of Figaro

Wed 15th – Sun 19th February 2012

reviews

Florence Strickland

at 10:22 on 20th Feb 2012

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Especially for the 19th February, the audience are required to wear black tie. The stage lights grow brighter throughout that renowned overture, as Figaro and Susanna’s wedding dawns. Hence, The Marriage of Figaro is underway. A well-harnessed orchestra, which carried the cast and the score throughout the performance, introduced this pre-revolution comic opera. During the recitative a harpsichord worked equally well with cast members, placed upon the stage, with the harpsichord player in costume too. These elements of the performance are all some examples of the sensitivity and attention to detail, with which director Anna Bailey presented the production.

There were some impressive performances from both the male and female cast members, with voices evidently well adapted to, and experienced in opera - despite some perhaps being understandably tired after long rehearsals and performances. This level of professionalism, in my opinion, developed throughout. Although quite hard to hear at first, the cast and audience soon settled in. It is sometimes the case that singing and acting are not always equally well mastered, however here we saw extremely well developed characterisation. Susanna, played on the 19th, by Laura Ralph certainly demonstrated this, as her feisty and indignant character reached a height of hysteria during the final scenes of the opera, accompanied by expressive vocals. Polly Leech as Countess Almaviva should be congratulated for her moving performance, and evident experience, as well as her mastery of the role. Hugo Hymas as Don Basilio and Don Curzo had a wonderful voice, as did Daniel Tate as Doctor Bartolo – both roles were infused with comedy.

Apart from the individual characters, much of the comedy was evidently achieved by the direction of Anna Bailey, who ensured a chemistry between characters from the comic, to the awful tension between Count and Countess Almaviva. A notable scene was in the first half, where the music teacher Don Basilio’s exuberant conduction of a choir of servants, eventually sees them walking off the stage, music cast away with annoyance –much to the delight of the audience. Equally, after the costume-swapping and note-sending which serve to try and avoid Count Almaviva’s reinstatement of the droit de seigneur, Susanna verbally and physically abuses Figaro as the hilarity progresses. Indeed even the cast themselves seemed to be infected with this by the last scene, which only served to entertain further.

In the light of the domestic scenes, typical to the comic genre, which the plain flats anticipated, the set was simple yet effective. The props, equally well tuned to the period were moved fluidly in between scenes by cast members to avoid any disruption. The only shame was that from where we were sitting at first, it was very difficult to see all of the action that happened at lower levels on stage, however we moved forward in the second half and the problem was solved. The hair and make-up were also very well done, the powdered wigs were suggested with carefully crafted hair. Powder and rouge were excessively layered for the more comic or ridiculous characters such as Fleur Moore-Bridger as Marcellina, and Don Basilio, for great comic effect – demonstrated by much laughter from the audience.

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Julia Chapman

at 11:36 on 20th Feb 2012

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Filled with black-tie wearing patrons, dramatic crepuscular lighting, and the booming, familiar overture of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, Castle’s Great Hall at the outset of the evening promised a very special night indeed with its undeniably electric atmosphere.

The dim lighting enhanced this perception by shielding the set, which, we discovered as the lights gradually rose, was entirely unremarkable. I recognize that it is inevitable that no amateur production will ever capture the lavishness and intricacy of eighteenth century Rococo interiors, but it didn’t seem as though an attempt had even been made.

However, the set’s makeshift appearance could have been forgiven had the decorative furniture onstage been more visible. There were some not insignificant visibility impediments, and while belabouring this point may seem inane, it cannot be stressed how much this interfered with the production. Any seated action was wholly invisible, and it is incredible how much was lost to this.

Technical criticisms aside, The Durham Opera Ensemble’s The Marriage of Figaro made up for these faults in spades. The stunning costumes with their palette of pastel colours were disparate from their lacklustre backdrop. The beautiful eggshell-coloured harpsichord hinted at the Sophia Coppola-like injection of modernity that the program implied but the show never fulfilled. Nevertheless, the exceptional performances by many of the cast were what must be attended to.

The Marriage of Figaro is a comic opera, and one which treats two servants on the verge of marriage as its protagonists. The opera is easily accessible to a wide range of audience members, and the obvious comedy was redeemed from obnoxiousness by the understated methods of the actors. The scene in which the countess laments the infidelity of her husband, however, was the most powerful in the production, undermining director Anna Bailey’s concept of ‘levity over loftiness.’

Polly Leech’s Countess Almaviva was the least reproachable performer. Her voice, her dramatic competence, and the veritable birds nest that was her hair made her a powerhouse. My admiration for the countess was likely swayed by some serious costume envy, but her talent was abundant in itself, for her first number onstage was performed sitting down, so not even the top of her enormous hair was within sight. That said, her invisibility liberated her isolated voice from its surroundings, and as her singing hung in the air with no body to speak of, I was mesmerised.

Fleur Moore-Bridger also deserves plaudits for her delightful Marcellina (whose brilliant drunken exit was undoubtedly the comic highlight), as does James Hyde for making the most of an insipid character. Laura Ralph as Susanna certainly couldn’t be accused of underacting, but her voice and charming skittishness ensured that this did not detract excessively from her performance. Dan Tate’s Doctor Bartolo had a wonderful sonorous voice, and his deft handling of his many tongue twisters was admirable.

The orchestra, of course, cannot remain unmentioned. So powerful was the music, with its orchestral numbers accompanied by the visually and aurally alluring harpsichord, that one’s attention was easily diverted from the largely unseen scene to the hallowed ceiling of the Great Hall and the music filling its rafters.

The Marriage of Figaro was three and a half hours long, and as the strength of the performers’ voices began to wane, so, inevitably, did audience attention. Fortunately, the production ended on a high note, and the final number managed to remind me how enjoyable the earlier part of the play had been. An abundance of talent and a soaring, expertly performed score ensured that the atmosphere of the Great Hall was upheld throughout the production.

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