First impressions count. Having expanded its list of venues to include Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre, Glyndebourne on Tour needed a sure thing for its first production there. Le nozze di Figaro – a perennial favourite, and the first opera to be performed at Glyndebourne (in 1934) – fitted the bill nicely.
And so did Michael Grandage’s good-humoured staging. First seen at this year’s festival and now in the hands of Ian Rutherford, this Figaro is certainly visually compelling. An intricate Seville palace, complete with vibrantly painted mosaics and Moorish detailing, makes for an impressive backdrop to the frenetic onstage action, but one strangely at odds with the production’s Swinging Sixties motif.
That’s where Grandage has determinedly gone to town, populating the stage with a preponderance of straggly manes, flower-children and groovy dancing. The concept is entertaining – if a little inconsistently applied. But while it chimes with some themes and undercurrents – the free love sought by the count, the ambiguous amorous encounters that dominate the final act, and the mass of hormones oozing beneath the work’s pristine surface – it takes no account of the sexual jealousies that propel the action. Nor does it do justice to the opera’s class tensions: if anything, Count Almaviva is even tattier than his long-suffering servants.
What Grandage’s staging, currently midway through its tour, does best is to define the characters and the relationships between them, while providing the cast with a wide platform to demonstrate their strengths. John Moore’s Count is languid, menacing, too smooth for comfort. Anna Devin is a sweet-voiced Susanna, making up in tonal quality and subtlety for what she lacks in character development and volume. Guido Loconsolo contributes a sturdy Figaro, rather inert but with vocal heft, Layla Claire makes a dramatically majestic, if musically underpowered Countess, Andrew Slater is an effortlessly comic Bartolo, Ellie Laugharne an unaffected Barbarina. The stand-out performance is Kathryn Rudge’s deeply felt, endearingly jittery Cherubino.
Conductor Jonathan Cohen gives the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra little time to catch their breath, transforming Mozart’s overture into a firework display – explosive, frantic and finished before you know it.