The Marriage of Figaro review – zippy Mozart for the #metoo era with gender swap

Royal Opera House, London
This revival of David McVicar’s wonderful 2006 production sees an uneven cast and John Eliot Gardiner’s conducting sometimes too overbearing

A good performance of Le Nozze di Figaro always has more going for it than most other operatic experiences. The latest Covent Garden revival of David McVicar’s 2006 production is like that. It’s Figaro, so it’s wonderful. But that doesn’t mean it is without problems.

McVicar’s staging, updated to the 1820s, is one example. The indoor scenes are taut and full of social insights. The servants are rarely out of sight or mind. And this is very much a reading for the #MeToo era. But there is a dramatic slackness in the always difficult nocturnal final act, which means the opera loses its way until Mozart comes to the rescue in the transcendent final scene.

John Eliot Gardiner’s conducting poses another issue. Few know this score better or talk about it more interestingly than he. There is terrific zip and attention to detail, and orchestral insights abound. But Gardiner’s work felt a bit overbearing and self-absorbed, and there was not much kindness to the singers, who are sometimes overwhelmed.

Kangmin Justin Kim as Cherubino.
Gender switch … Kangmin Justin Kim as Cherubino. Photograph: Mark Douet

Among the men, Christian Gerhaher’s Figaro has a master’s attention to text and vocal nuance, but he seems to be performing in a different opera from some of the more traditional interpretations around him. Simon Keenlyside’s Count acts everyone else off the stage, and can still sing most people off it, too. To hear two such baritones in this opera is luxury indeed. But this will be remembered as the gender-fluid revival with a male Cherubino, the Korean-American countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim, who pulls it off in more senses than one.

Joélle Harvey has the ideal warmth of voice for Susanna. But the full dramatic range of the woman who turns the tables on the men, and on whose music Mozart lavished such special attention, is not there yet. Her Deh Vieni was a very beautiful piece of singing, but it did not shake the soul as this aria can. Julia Kleiter’s Countess was likewise vocally distinguished but dramatically somewhat two-dimensional. It was left to the now veteran Diana Montague as Marcellina to bring the female cause to theatrical life, and it is a pity that, as usual, she is denied her final-act aria to underline the point.

• At Royal Opera House, London, until 21 July.

Contributor

Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Marriage of Figaro review – Ireland's new opera company opens with unfussy Mozart
Irish National Opera’s first bespoke show needed more emotional depth and complexity, but musical standards were high, with Máire Flavin’s Countess and Aoife Miskelly’s Cherubino particular standouts

Andrew Clements

23, Apr, 2018 @7:48 PM

Article image
The Marriage of Figaro review – beguiling cast bring clarity to the confusion
English Touring Opera’s production is beautifully sung and manages to bring out the tenderness within the comedy

Tim Ashley

02, Mar, 2018 @5:19 PM

Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro – review

Herbert van Karajan's performance of Le Nozze di Figaro on his return to Vienna was a typically starry one, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

16, Aug, 2012 @9:30 PM

Article image
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte CD review – a fascinating snapshot of Covent Garden in the 1960s
This remastered 1962 Klemperer recording from the Royal Opera House reveals some first-night nerves, but also some very fine and authoritative singing

Andrew Clements

22, Apr, 2015 @3:00 PM

Article image
Simon Boccanegra review – Carlos Álvarez dazzles in Verdi's dark epic
The mesmerising baritone is entirely convincing in Elijah Moshinsky’s revival of Verdi’s broodingly intense portrait of a man haunted by his past

Tim Ashley

16, Nov, 2018 @1:14 PM

Article image
Così fan tutte review – lovers recoupled in impressive Mozart
Reverting to an original score, in this production the couples are opposite what we’re used to, and a young cast sounds well together

Erica Jeal

06, Dec, 2018 @3:00 PM

Article image
Macbeth review – musically formidable revival of Verdi's opera
Željko Lučić and Anna Netrebko give powerful performances and Phyllida Lloyd directs this imperfect yet intriguing revamp

Tim Ashley

27, Mar, 2018 @12:29 PM

The Marriage of Figaro – review
Fiona Shaw's first foray into the operatic mainstream sounds good but is maddeningly busy and confusing, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

06, Oct, 2011 @11:32 AM

Article image
The Marriage of Figaro - review

Scottish Opera's new Figaro is great on stage, shoddy in the pit, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

31, Oct, 2010 @9:30 PM

Article image
Lohengrin review – Klaus Florian Vogt compelling in sharp Mitteleurope update
Director David Alden pushes the power politics in the war-ravaged setting for the ROH’s first new Lohengrin for 41 years

Andrew Clements

08, Jun, 2018 @4:59 PM