The Marriage of Figaro review – beguiling cast bring clarity to the confusion

Hackney Empire, London
English Touring Opera’s production is beautifully sung and manages to bring out the tenderness within the comedy

The centrepiece of English Touring Opera’s spring season is a new production by Blanche McIntyre of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro that veers, at times uneasily, between tradition and quirkiness.

McIntyre likes to remind us that what we are watching is artifice. During the overture, the cast arrive in modern dress, before scrambling into costume. When the curtain rises after the interval, stage hands flutter around Dawid Kimberg’s Count, removing the carpet from the previous scene as he reflects on his attempted seduction of Rachel Redmond’s Susanna.

Elsewhere, however, McIntyre’s interpretation is relatively straightforward and in period. She avoids heavyweight political glosses: this is not so much a portrait of the ancien régime buckling under the threat of impending revolution as a domestic comedy of masters and servants. It is played out in an elegant if claustrophobic palazzo, where eavesdroppers hover in corridors and trouble lurks behind every door. Its principal strength lies in the clarity it brings to a narrative that can be confusing even for the work’s most ardent admirers. The downside is that it is occasionally short on humour and sadness, and doesn’t quite give us the opera’s full emotional range.

English Touring Opera presents The Marriage of Figaro, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at the Hackney Empire, directed by Blanche McIntryre, conducted by Christopher Stark.
Blending beautifully … English Touring Opera’s production. Photograph: Jane Hobson

It is, however, beautifully acted and sung by a fine ensemble cast. Ross Ramgobin’s handsome Figaro plots and schemes with wide-eyed glee, and there’s real tenderness in his scenes with Redmond’s self-assured Susanna: she’s exceptional, singing with a beguiling, silvery tone and an exquisite sense of line. Kimberg’s periwigged Count suggests genuine menace and foppish absurdity, though it’s sometimes difficult to understand why Nadine Benjamin’s Countess remains devoted to him. She sounded a bit tentative in her first aria on opening night, though her rich, glowing voice blends beautifully with Redmond in the letter duet. Katherine Aitken, meanwhile, makes a fine Cherubino, funny, gauche, often deeply touching. There are some cuts in the score, but Christopher Stark conducts with great flair and intelligence and there’s wonderfully supple, detailed playing from the ETO Orchestra.

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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