Le nozze di Figaro - Royal Opera House, 16 September 2013
Now this is more like it. After the disappointing start to the ROH season with Turandot comes the best revival yet of David McVicar's 2006 production. The comedy sparkles, the social satire bites, and three and a half hours pass in no time.
John Eliot Gardiner deserves a great deal of the credit. He is not a singers' conductor. His tempi were unyielding, sometimes to the detriment of pit/stage coordination, but they were brisk and propulsive. With no vibrato to hide behind, the strings displayed much crisper ensemble and tuning than might be expected. Above all there was a keen sense of theatre; Gardiner's phrasing is more flexible and aware than many of his 'authentic' colleagues. The only disappointment orchestrally was the continuo, minimal to the point of nothingness.
The cast tended more towards the solid than the starry, but were transformed under McVicar's personal supervision into a perfectly balanced ensemble, far more than the sum of its parts.
At the centre was the wigged and guylinered Christopher Maltman as a testy and arrogant Count. Luca Pisaroni's beautifully sung and admirably unsympathetic Figaro shares the Count's penchant for violence and deception, but the social hierarchy (here updated to the 1830s) prevents each from seeing himself in the other.
Maria Bengtsson's cool and enigmatic Countess played off Lucy Crowe's textbook-perky Susanna, and Renata Pokupic made a winsome Cherubino. Amongst the admirable supporting cast, Mary Bevan's sparkling Barbarina made the most impact. Only the embarrassingly camp characterisation of Don Basilio grated, for which I blame the director not the doughty singer, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt.
McVicar ought to lose the fussy hordes of servant-extras, but otherwise he tells the story neatly, with a proper regard for the complications of social status.
production photos (above) Mark Douet/Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below) intermezzo.typepad.com