This is the third Mozart opera adapted and directed by Michael Gow for Opera Australia on Tour, and certainly his best to date. For this production Gow has written an English translation. He’s also stripped away most of the recitative, and replaced it with spoken dialogue. Although a bit surprising at first, this dialogue is witty and clarifies the storyline, and works a treat, resulting in plentiful guffaws from the audience.
Gow has also introduces a children’s chorus to replace the small adult chorus. This not only eliminates the cost of touring adult choristers, but provides a rare and valuable opportunity for local children, in the centres visited by the opera company, to experience participation in a professional opera production. It also increases the potential audience of parents and grandparents, besides adding considerable charm to the production.
Gow and his designer, Robert Kemp, have set this production of Mozart’s delicious comedy of manners, in the period in which it was written, the 1780’s, providing Kemp with the opportunity to design colourful Goya-inspired costumes, and a lovely setting of a large, featureless room, overpainted with an Arcadian landscape, which works marvellously for both the indoor and outdoor scenes.
Gow’s inspired direction makes great use of the plentiful doors and windows in this setting to provide a continuous series of lovely stage pictures, perfectly lit by Matt Scott to capture the charm of the period, sometimes lighting solos with just a row of footlights to give the appearance of how that opera might have appeared in Mozart’s day.
This production comes complete with an elegant chamber orchestra, under the direction of Paul Fitzsimon, who keeps the tempi brisk, while allowing his singers sufficient room for individual interpretation, particularly in the glorious ensemble numbers.
It also comes with an excellent cast of fine singers headed by Jeremy Kleeman as a handsome and spirited Figaro. Kleeman’s fine baritone and infectious joie de vivre is perfectly matched by the stylish singing and acting of Celeste Lazarenko as Susanna, and together they make an engaging pair of lovers.
Wonderfully elegant as the bitchy housekeeper, Marcellina, Kristen Leich is well teamed with Steven Gallop as Dr. Bartolo. Their reactions to the news that they are actually Figaro’s parents provide some of the funniest moments in the opera.
Agnes Sarkis gets her fair share of laughs as the amorous page-boy, Cherubino, and Emma Castelli, makes a lovely Countess Almaviva, her letter-song duet with Susanna, providing a vocal and visual highlight among many during the evening. As her philandering husband, Count Almaviva, Simon Meadows cuts a dashing figure, singing strongly and acting with conviction, though few in the audience would be convinced of his final contrition.
Jenny Liu, who alternates in the role of Susanna, made the most of her opportunities as Barbarina, while Brad Cooper has great fun demonstrating his versatility as a remarkably flamboyant Don Basilio, and a bumptious Don Curzio .
Fresh, elegant and innovative, this production is not only a treat to watch, but also a delight to listen to. Superb singing throughout, with obvious attention paid by the singers to their diction and characterisations, resulting in plenty of guffaws as the audience got caught up in the storyline. No mean feat for a night at the opera.
The Marriage of Figaro
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 25 August 2016
Information and Bookings: www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au
The Marriage of Figaro is currently touring to selected venues throughout Australia. For more information including touring dates, visit: www.opera.org.au for details.
Image: Jeremy Kleeman and Celeste Lazarenko in The Marriage of Figaro – photo by Albert Comper
Review: Bill Stephens