11/08/2001 - and 10, 14, 16, 21, 23, 27, 30 November, 5, 7 December
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The marriage of Figaro
Christopher Maltman (Figaro), Mary Nelson (Susanna), Leigh Melrose (The Count), Orla Boylan (The Countess), Victoria Simmonds (Cherubino), Claire Weston (Marcellina), Mark Richardson (Dr Bartolo), Mark Le Brocq (Don Basilio), Ryland Davies (Don Curzio), Claire Ormshaw (Barbarina), Andrew Shore (Antonio)
ENO orchestra and chorus
Jane Glover (conductor), Steven Stead (director)
The new production of The marriage of Figaro at the ENO seems to aspire to being rubbished as Eurotrash. The fixed set, at least, consists of a lot of rubbish. The programme notes, with a scene from the opera illustrated in manga style on the cover, emphasise the modernity of the work a bit in the manner of a Latin teacher trying explain that Catullus is terribly up to date, blissfully unaware that the last time modernity was a turn-on was in the 1960s. There are even allusions to Daleks and the Borg and a sappy message taken from a junk e-mail about the iniquities of the present age. The visual style and the costumes follow the manga idea, blending punk and new romanticism, but this is decor rather than a concept: the Count's place in a military aristocracy is emphasised by a space-age uniform and a couple of trooper heavies, and Susanna wears a camp maid's outfit with glossy underwear. Nothing conflicts with the essentials of the plot (though there is no great effort to explain the minor characters), and the singers get to perform the opera pretty much straight, and quite well.
Mary Nelson's Susanna, petite and sparky, and Orla Boylan's Countess, statuesque and stately, could not have been mistaken for each other in a million years, although both were quite beautiful. Although there might have been a suspicion that the audience applauded the best-known numbers, Boylan's Dove sono ("I remember his love so tender" in Jeremy Sams' splendid translation) was loudly and rightly applauded. Victoria Simmonds' quasi-Japanese Cherubino also really hit the spot. She looked, acted and even sounded quite a lot like a randy teenage boy. The three of them made the dressing-up scene very funny indeed, quite pervy and a long way from operetta naughtiness. Claire Weston had a touch of the Katishas as Marcellina, possibly imposed on her by the production, while Claire Ormshaw was irresistibly cute as Barbarina.
Christopher Maltman didn't seem quite relaxed as Figaro, though he sounded terrific most of the time, and had definitely had something going with his Susanna. Leigh Melrose sounded positively insecure most of the time as the Count, though he also has a fine voice, and he swaggered thuggishly at the right moments. A clutch of more established singers came close to stealing the show in the character roles: Mark Richardson was a humourless Bartolo, Mark Le Brocq a splendidly weird Basilio, Ryland Davies a comic opera Curzio (climbing out of the pit with a broken cello after Cherubino's leap thither) and Andrew Shore a luxurious and wonderfully doddery Antonio.
Jane Glover directed the orchestra the way most punters would like it. If the ENO was hoping for another Don Giovanni-like scandal, they are probably out of luck. There is probably something somewhere in this production to irritate everyone slightly, but on the whole it's too feeble and superficial to worry about. If you're not aiming to have a tantrum, you will probably enjoy the singing and not mind the rest too much.