Michael Gow’s adaptation and direction enhance the whimsical delight of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in Opera Australia’s highly accessible, thoroughly entertaining new touring production.
Once something of a distant relation, regional tours are now fully branded as Opera Australia productions, bringing the associated quality of not only excellent singers but also lavish costumes, well-constructed sets, live orchestra and glossy program. Far from a watered down experience, the regional tour offers extraordinary value for a unique, stimulating and satisfying musical experience.
The Marriage of Figaro is an inspired choice, given the abundance of truly beautiful music in Mozart’s beloved score and the delightful comedy of Beaumarchais’ colourful but recognisable characters. Retaining the glorious music while replacing the bulk of the recitative with snippets of spoken dialogue, Gow has given the opera the zip and verve of a greatest hits collection. The highly respectful adaptation takes no liberties to seek cheap laughs, simply allowing the natural comedy of the piece to work its magic.
Sung in English, the text may lose a little of its poetic shimmer, but the pristine diction brings a very worthwhile benefit in regard to accessibility. The familiar opera actually takes on more layers when all the vocal lines can be heard and understood so easily.
Gow’s direction creates an endearing set of distinct characters. The English lyrics and the relative intimacy of the venue make storytelling crystal clear, and humour to the twists and surprises along the way.
While the chamber orchestra of nine musicians feels somewhat exposed during the overture, conductor Paul Fitzsimon brings out a very nicely balanced sound once the singers are added to the music.
Giving the tour a tangible connection to each port of call, a local children’s choir, prepared by Josh van Konkelenberg, performs on stage as part of the action. Such is the transfixing charm of the children, the adult characters practically become invisible when the choir comes on for the first time. For the tour’s opening night in Dandenong, an adorable set of children from Wooranna Park Primary School performed and sang with polish and flair.
Bringing to mind the treasured rooms that are secreted way in many a convent school, Robert Kemp’s design presents a palace room painted from floor to ceiling with an idyllic, verdant landscape. Kemp draws from a muted Mediterranean palette for the ensemble costumes, enhancing the principal costumes with highly theatrical splashes of colour.
Lighting designer Matt Scott makes good use of footlights to create a nostalgic feel. Scott bathes the set in green light to create act four’s garden setting, making beautiful use of shadow through the scrim to allow Susanna to hold hands with the hidden Figaro early in the garden scene.
Fast rising bass Jeremy Kleeman makes his Opera Australia debut as Figaro, a role that is surely the first of a great many engagements with the company. A versatile and charismatic performer, Kleeman is reliably nimble and expressive in the role.
Celeste Lazarenko is entirely believable as dear Susanna, conveying the character’s infinite patience and crafty intelligence, and singing with particularly dulcet tones.
Olivia Cranwell brings a polished presence and a lovely clear, pure soprano as the Countess. Lit in a chilly evening blue, Cranwell’s heartfelt performance of reflective aria “Where are they, the beautiful moments” is the most affecting moment of the evening. Lucas de Jong handles the vocals of Count Almaviva with agility, enhancing the comedy with a serious countenance.
Kristen Leich, as the vainly conceited Marcellina, and Steven Gallop, as her supporter and suitor Bartolo, are amusingly droll. Gallop, in particular, is having a very strong year and his presence here is quality casting.
Agnes Sarkis scores many laughs as the ardent Cherubino, and sings the classic aria “You ladies know what love is” with a sweetly polished tone.
In powdered wig and brightly rouged cheeks, Brad Cooper proves there are no small roles as the foppish dandy Don Basilio.
With its eminently hummable music and multitude of laugh out loud moments, it is hard to imagine any audience not enjoying The Marriage of Figaro. Audience members lucky enough to have a visit from the tour are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this ideal opportunity to enjoy a wonderful night of theatre.
The Marriage of Figaro plays selected dates and venues across Victoria, New South Wales, ACT and Tasmania throughout July, August and September 2016. Further dates and states will follow in 2017.
Photos: Albert Comper
(Note: the roles of Figaro, Susanna, Count Almaviva and Countess Almaviva are double cast. Photos in the review show Simon Meadows as Count Almaviva and Emma Castelli as Countess Almaviva)
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