Le nozze di Figaro - Opera Holland Park, 2 July 2011 (first night)
Liam Steel's new production of Le nozze di Figaro gets a Downton Abbey update to early 20th century England, with Figaro himself an unnervingly camp Jeeves-like butler/fixer. Otherwise it's remarkably similar to David McVicar's Royal Opera House production, right down to the fussy clutter of underlings in every scene.
When they're not dancing with their dusters, the servants hold the legless stage furniture aloft, a joke which lacks the, er, legs, to last the evening. At least the choreography is elegant, testifying to Steel's dance background. He's less successful with the more naturalistic style required from the singers, who were often stilted and tentative if not downright unconvincing.
One standout vocal performance made the evening worthwhile. The Countess's inner despair was laced through Elizabeth Llewellyn's every note, peaking in a profoundly affecting Dove sono. It was all the remarkable for the aristocratic poise of her delivery, the raw feelings behind the Countess's unslippable social mask.
Hannah Pedley's cocky Cherubino lacked fine detail, but clarity, line and diction and a full, evenly produced sound more than compensated. When the original Susanna dropped out at a very late stage, Jane Harrington stepped in, with a confident, vivacious performance not betraying her lack of preparation. The men were less impressive on the whole, with George von Bergen's Count perhaps the pick of the bunch.
Matthew Willis kept up a relentless pace in the pit, but needed to shape and shade the dramatic contours more to keep a long evening buoyant.