The charm of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro has always escaped me. Not even the lure of Mozart’s sublime score seemed worth the tedium of having to sit through the silly convoluted plot. However, having just experienced David McVicar’s wonderfully joyous production for the first time, I’ve finally seen the light.
Blessed with an outstanding International cast of superb singers, some of whom were making their first Sydney Opera House appearances, revival director, Andy Morton, has managed to mould them into a cohesive ensemble achieving exactly the right performance level to allow each to deliver McVicar’s concept with fascinatingly nuanced and detailed performances which serve the story as well as the music in ways that are thoughtful, inspired, and often very funny.
The opera is performed in Jenny Tiramani’s naturalistic, sunlit 17th century manor house setting, clothed in extraordinarily detailed costumes, with the action taking place over the course of a single day, the times differences differentiated by a remarkable lighting design from David Finn. The storyline centres on the attempts of two servants, Figaro (Tommaso Barea) and Susanna (Stacey Alleaume), to thwart the ambitions of their employer, Count Almaviva (Mario Cassi) to exercise his baronial right to bed his servant before her wedding day.
Throw in the fact that Figaro has signed a contract to marry Marcellina (Sian Sharp) if he defaults on the repayment of money he has borrowed from her; a young Page, Cherubino (Agnes Sarkis), who’s convinced he’s in love with both Susanna and the Countess; and unlikely plan cooked up by Susanna and the Countess (Ekaterina Morozova) to swap clothes in an attempt to prove the Count’s infidelities; and a house full of servants determined to celebrate a wedding, and you have all the elements of slapstick. Except that in this production, instead of resorting to slapstick the cast play every scene as if for real. The result is great fun as well as superb opera.
As the Count Almaviva, a role often portrayed as a randy buffoon, Italian baritone, Mario Cassi is a handsome, imposing figure, investing the role with as much dignity as the shenanigans allow. His Countess is elegant Bolshoi soprano, Ekaterina Morozova, a fine singer/actress as arresting lamenting her husband’s infidelity with an exquisite rendition of Porgi amor, as when conspiratorially dictating a letter for her maid Susanna to deliver to the Count to entice him into meeting for which she’ll be disguised as Susanna.
As Susanna, Stacey Alleaume proved her sensational turn in the HOSH production of La Traviata was no splash in the pan. Rather than portray her as a downcast, simpering maiden willing to acquiesce to her employers advances, Alleaume’s Susanna is a feisty, non-nonsense character, quite capable of fighting her own battles, whether they be with her fiancé, Figaro, to insist on better marital accommodation, or plotting a plan with the Countess to expose the Count’s infidelities.
Not afraid to use the stage, Alleaume is constantly on the move. In this she is well teamed with mullet-wearing Tommaso Barea, who’s youthful Figaro is equally physical. Together they create a rare chemistry which demonstrates their feelings for each other even when quarrelling.
Agnes Sarkis gives an appealing performance as the young page, Cherubino, earning belly-laughs in the first act when his hiding place is exposed by Dr Bartolo. Richard Anderson’s rich baritone is displayed to great advantage in this role, as are his skills in creating amusing, interesting characters. Similarly, Sian Sharp is very funny as the waspish Marcellina, particularly when late in the show she discovers that the man she was hoping to marry is really her son.
Benjamin Rasheed (Don Basilio), Stuart Haycock (Don Curzio) Danita Weatherstone (Barbarina), Andrew Moran (Antonio) Celeste Lararenko and Angela Hogan (1st and 2nd Bridesmaids) and a small but enthusiastic group of ensemble singers all surround the main characters with cleverly drawn, beautifully sung cameos which add to the fun, and enhance the enjoyment of Mozart’s sublime score which is blissfully rendered by the Opera Australia orchestra responding to Maestro Andrea Molino’s experienced and fastidious direction.
If you haven’t yet experienced this production don’t miss this opportunity. It’s difficult to imagine that this opera could be more beautifully mounted and performed.
The Marriage of Figaro
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Performance: Thursday 27 January 2022
Season continues to 18 February 2022
Information and Bookings: www.opera.org.au
Image: Sian Sharp as Marcellina, Benjamin Rasheed as Don Basilio, Richard Anderson as Dr Bartolo, Ekaterina Morozova as The Countess and Mario Cassi as The Count in Opera Australia’s 2022 production of The Marriage of Figaro at the Sydney Opera House – photo by Prudence Upton
Review: Bill Stephens OAM