In this production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro State Opera has managed another marriage of sorts. Setting the story in our own time the original spirit and ideas behind the opera are preserved while the contemporary setting allows for comedy, action and political strategies on stage, as it brings it into the world as we know it today.
Mozart, together with librettist Da Ponte, adapted a French play by the Frenchman Beaumarchais, which had been regarded as subversive and critical of the ruling class. What, in our world , has changed?
Susanna and Figaro need the permission of the Count to marry. The Count who is a very powerful figure, holds the key their happiness. Unfortunately the Count thinks Susanna holds the key to his happiness and wishes to reestablish droit de seigneur. The Count’s wife, Rosina, mourns the fact that he no longer appears to love her, although still being incredibly jealous. Throw in the mix a young intern whose hormones have him in a state of incredible confusion and frustration; more senior officials and a lawyer – it would not be surprising if confusion reigned.
Thanks to a cast of excellent singers, director (Nicholas Cannon) and set and costume designer (Ailsa Paterson) the story unfolds, becoming increasingly complicated at times, but finally being resolved harmoniously. Much of the direction reflected Nicholas Cannon’s experience and training in mime as well as music and direction, with inspired touches, which never robbed from the music.
The all Australian cast is one in which we should take great pride. Jeremy Kleeman has sung Figaro in other productions, but I doubt he has done so dancing on one leg, or whirring about sitting on an office chair. He did so effortlessly as well as being able to transform convincingly from a loving fiancé to a jealous husband in the course of one day. Added to that he can sing!
Jessica Dean as Susanna is amazing, an efficient aide, who keeps things running smoothly, while she is spirited, vivacious, volatile and resourceful. As a bonus she sings beautifully, as shown in the duets, ensembles, and aria Deh vieni non tardar with its last sustained high notes.
As the Count Almviva Nicholas Lester has the unsympathetic role of big boss who expects to get his own way, and usually does. It is no reflection on his character to say he both sings and acts the part to perfection. His long suffering wife Rosina is sung by Petah Cavallaro, with power and emotion. Cherubino (Emily Edmonds) portrays a young boy, agile, cheeky, and captivating as she sings, even in a dustbin.
Mention must be made also of Cherie Bogart who as Marcellina with a fine pair of legs, an excellent voice and a body which she shimmies to advantage, embodies a woman of a certain age who still feels young, Pelham Andrew, last seen as the dour Banquo in Macbeth, as Dr Bartolo is the perfect foil, with his walking stick and world weary urbanity. Lucy Stoddart as Barbarina was a delight, in her MainStage principal debut.
While I would like to single out every singer, space does not permit, but special mention should be made of Erik Chmielewski who as Security Guard does not sing at all, but who stood stoically waiting for the Count’s command through every situation and crisis.
The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, under Tobias Ringborg, settled during the overture to support the singers and be in excellent form. We have come to expect nothing less from them.
My one criticism is that in the last act the action, where the music reflects the power of love and forgiveness, and the promise of a happier future, was not matched with the what was happening on stage which was more like an office Christmas Party. A touch more gravitas would have suited the sublime music of the finale.
However, I consider that anyone who saw this production and did not thoroughly enjoy it is, in the words of Bob Hawke, a bum.
Her Majesty’s Theatre 16-25 November
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