ESO’s The Marriage of Figaro

What a lovely evening I had watching Edinburgh Studio Opera perform Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at Assembly Roxy on Tuesday. The company, made up of Edinburgh University students and recent conservatoire graduates and directed by Thomas Henderson, told their story with such wit, joy and clarity.

Making reference to the style of Beaumarchais’s play ‘Le Marriage de Figaro’ from which Mozart procures his story, the opera is presented as ‘improvised’. The cast change into and out of set pieces of period costume on the stage drawing attention to the fiction and farce of Figaro’s scheming, the caricatured nature of their characters and the theatricality of the music.

The large baskets of costumes and stage ladders which became the set made the stage feel a little cluttered at first but were well placed in later scenes. More could have been made of the grandeur of the venue – a converted church building. The great stone pillars below which the singers were illuminated have such presence and it seemed a shame that much of the stone wall was obscured by fabric. Robert Phipps’ lighting design however, made the most of the space and enhanced the blocking with skill and precision.

The orchestra, conducted by William Conway, sounded, to my untrained yet enthusiastic and appreciative ears, strong, filling the space with the famous overture with confidence.

Occasionally the smaller scenes became slightly stagnant and perhaps more pace in the music would have helped lift these but, for the most part, the opera progressed with spirited energy. Sarah Gilford’s Susannah was warm and bold, and so beautifully sung. Her friendships with Timothy Edmundson’s entertaining Figaro and the Countess Rosina (Jessica Conway) seemed genuine. Whilst Patrick Dodd as Dr Bartolo was far too youthful to be Figaro’s father, the incongruity only brought more hilarity to their scene of reconciliation.
Graham Cooper Don Basilio was a gem in his red velvet jacket and Jaimee Marshall as Cherubino was charming.

The poor chorus had so little to sing, but when they did, they sang with joyous enthusiasm and scene stealing facial expressions. Their appearances on stage were always well choreographed and served to further the humour and clarity of the narrative. Particularly lovely moments were the solos of students Oliver Norman, Sasha Holland, Serena Linely-Adams and Nikita Desai; I was so glad that at least some of the talent hiding in the chorus had the opportunity to be heard.

Do please buy tickets, they really deserve applause twice as loud as they received on the opening night. So charming and joyous, Bravo!

The Marriage of Figaro runs until 4th March at Assembly Roxy.
Reviewed by Laura Hounsell

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