A Happy Marriage

The Marriage of FigaroSadlers Wells Opera at the London Coliseum.

John Blatchley’s frothy, foot-tapping production of Figaro takes to the boards again at the Coliseum. The present cast plays it for laughs, and gets them; and the singing sets the whole glorious affair alight.

Elizabeth Tippett as the perky maidservant Susanna almost stole the show. Her scene with Marcellina (Judith Turner, in a new role for her), with the two women flinging the bitchiest compliments at one another, was a treat. Her full-toned singing reached a climax in the Act IV aria with an expression of extra-marital passion calculated to enrage the most placid Figaro.

Figaro (Norman Welsby) was far from placid. This rich baritone made the most of all the part offers; jealousy, affection, trickery, cajolery, all came across with ease and assurance, Nicely balanced too was his singing in the concerted passages that figure so prominently in this opera.

Bouquet the third to Tom McDonnell in his first appearance as Count Almaviva, the fickle husband, no match for the womenfolks’ scheming. His extensive range of expression and skilful acting will give pleasure for some time.

After a little uncertain fluttering in the beginning of Act II (the early sustained notes demanded of the Countess are an obstacle for most sopranos), Anne Evans took to the air blithely. Though a little weak in the aria in Act III, she had regained control completely for the denouement.

Barbara Walker’s pert page-boy (Cherubino) is yet another happy memory. There was a thinly disguised chirrup in her clear voice that instantly won the amused affection of the audience. Additional merriment was provided by Judith Turner and Denis Wicks (who stepped into the role of Dr Bartolo at the last moment) discovering Figaro to be their son; and by John Delaney’s whimsical Irish accent in the part of Don Basilio.

After an anxious few moments when Roger Norrington led the orchestra into the overture at break-neck speed (“We’ve all heard it a thousand times before, so let’s get it over and done with”.) Mozart won out, and the clearly enunciated orchestral accompaniment sustained the pace of the evening with only an occasional lapse here and there in the ensemblework.

Anne Evans as ‘Countess Almaviva’. Photograph: Donald Southern

The production is essentially a simple one – no elaborate stage tricks to ‘carry’ an inadequate cast. All credit then to the new company for their success. As the programme notes remark, “The opera ends in general rejoicing.” And it did. On both sides of the curtain.

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