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September 17, 2013 4:16 pm
After opening with Turandot , the Royal Opera’s new season moves on to another revival of a tried-and-trusted production. David McVicar’s staging of Le nozze di Figaro has always displayed a well-judged balance between the comedy and the serious issues barely below the surface of Mozart’s opera buffa, and the new cast plays it with delightful zest.
McVicar has returned to revive the production himself, which no doubt accounts for the freshness of the detail. The warning signs of impending social change are handled more subtly than before (Figaro now dusts down his master’s jacket superciliously rather than facing up to him in open rebellion) and the sexual politics between the Count and Countess make their marriage look like a coalition of convenience constantly on the brink of collapse.
Standing head and shoulders above everybody else, Luca Pisaroni’s imposing Figaro asserts the new confidence of the servant class. He sings with a first-rate bass-baritone that never loses its quality and makes every word of his native Italian tell, complementing the creamy soprano and vivacious appeal of his Susanna, Lucy Crowe. The shifting sands in the relationship between their master and mistress are charted in detail by Christopher Maltman’s bullying Count and the delicate Countess of Maria Bengtsson, who floats her arias on the thinnest thread of voice. Their reconciliation, when Maltman’s Count went to kiss his wife and she gently pushed him away, made a marvellously subtle close to the opera. As a quartet, these four singers probably work as well together as any the production has seen.
The gentle Cherubino of Renata Pokupić, a dreamy kind of adolescent boy, leads a strong supporting cast. Carlos Chausson’s Bartolo, Helene Schneiderman’s Marcellina and the eccentic Basilio of Jean-Paul Fouchécourt were all cameos of high quality.
In the pit there was a sense of celebration about the performance and not only because John Eliot Gardiner had just been announced as the Critics’ Circle’s Outstanding Musician of the Year. The overture fizzed at quite a pace, as befits a conductor who works with period instruments, and only some wobbly moments from the Royal Opera orchestra dulled the brilliance of the playing.
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