Le nozze di Figaro, or the Marriage of Figaro, is a complicated tale with enough tricks and turns to make your head dizzy but this performance stays on top of the complexity adding hilarity and brilliant story telling.
This seasoned opera’s fantastic music and theatrics are exceptional in themselves, but when these are combined with Joe Hill-Gibbins’ clever direction this particular performance was truly enjoyable. Hill-Gibbins’ direction in particular elevated the storyline and the acting, which is not always brought through in operatic performances. He also explains in the programme that whilst a lot of directors focus on the politics of the story with the overturning of archaic rules of the household, Hill-Gibbins did not want to shy away from the sexuality or relationships that are interweaved in the plot.
Going into this opera knowing the music well, it was initially disappointing that the beautiful Italian lyrics were not used, instead opting for an English translation. However, once the opera was underway, the hilarity of the translation brought out the storyline of the performance making it really engaging and would also be more easily digestible to any opera novice. The translation also addressed brilliantly some of the more archaic motifs that are slightly uncomfortable in the modern day era, without distracting from the fun and silliness of the storyline.
As mentioned earlier, often because an opera is so heavily reliant on big voices and music, the acting can be forgotten making it difficult to be truly enthused by the performances, but this was completely the opposite – the acting was fantastic and incredibly engaging. A few individuals in particular should be called out, Andrew Share playing Dr Bartolo with his high energy vengeance in the first act resonated with the skilled acting throughout the opera. The Count, played by Jonathon McCullough, was particularly slimey in a way that I loved to hate. Elizabeth Watts’ Countess must be commended for her incredible voice and ability to make one feel deeply empathetic towards her difficult situation with her horrible husband. This performance was an ENO first for multiple cast members, making this an extra special moment for the first night.
In terms of the scenery, the clever minimalism of the set in the first half simply contained four doors, which were well used and added some comedic and clever moments, however, the second half needed something more in terms of scenery as they pushed back the initial set and played out the crucial scenes on a plain stage. Whilst it kept the focus on the story, it lacked the gravitas of the first half.
Finally I must say congratulations to the cast on a stunning opening night, a couple of minor fumbles but overall a brilliant opening performance. If you are a lover of this opera or at the other end of the scale looking for your first taste of the operatic arts then you absolutely must see this for a light-hearted, enjoyable evening.
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