BWW Reviews: Opera Australia's Beautiful Interpretation of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO Tells A Tale Of Love, Deceit, Passion, Lust, And The Division Between The Classes.
Thursday 6 August, 2015, 7pm, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Sir David McVicar's latest creation for Opera Australia, Mozart's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO is a beautiful blend of a comic tale of the goings-on in an aristocratic home, well-paced music and stunning visuals. This is the second in the series of three of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte's(Libretto) collaborations that McVicar is breathing new life and sees his vision blended with the detailed costumes and sets from designer Jenny Tiramani.
The overture, led by conductor Guillaume Tourniaire, sets a light but complex sweeping tone, with a hint of frivolity, over the audience. In addition to the normal orchestra, this work includes the delicate old world sound of the Fortepiano, played by Siro Battaglin from a position raised in the pit, similar to historical records that state that Mozart conducted the first two performances of the opera from his seat at a Foretepiano.
The story which revolves around the impending marriage of Figaro (Paolo Bordogna), newly appointed steward to Count Almaviva (Andrei Bondarenko), to Countess Rosina Almaviva's(Nicole Car) maid Susanna (Taryn Fiebig). As Figaro maintains a level of naivety with regard to his knowledge of his master's personality as a letch that makes advances on all the women in his employ, Susanna proves smarter in the first humorous song as she questions the proximity of their marital bedchamber to the Count's rooms. In addition to the Count's desire to claim the feudal right to bed any of his female servants on their wedding night, particularly Susanna, Marcellina (Jacqueline Dark), the Count's housekeeper seeks to claim on the loan contract that states that if she is not repaid, Figaro must marry her, further confusing the web of lust and desire that is running through the castle. Dr Bartolo, a doctor and lawyer, is helping Marcellina, further fueled by desire for revenge for Figaro's involvement in the Count taking Contessa Rosina as his wife when he had designs on her of his own but his display of power becomes an aphrodisiac for Marcellina. As this muddle of desire plays out, the Count's young wife, the Countess, reflects on her pathetic marriage and her unfaithful husband and schemes with Susanna and other members of the household to expose his indiscretions. Additionally, more scandal plays out among the servants as a Page, Cherubino, a hormone fueled teenage boy (played En Travesti by Anna Dowsley) is discovered by the Count with the gardener Antonio's (Adrian Tamburini) daughter Barbarina (Eva Kong) adding another level of control that the Count holds over the members of his household.
Whilst the story is silly and frivolous on the surface, deeper analysis highlights the inequality between the aristocracy and the working classes and the gender imbalance. The Count has rights to behave appallingly to his female servants, essentially owning all of his servants which is played out in his desire to reinstate the 'droit du seigneur' to would allow him to sleep with Susanna on her wedding night and Barbarina's petition to the Count to be allowed to marry the page Cherubino. Dr Bartolo believes it was his right to marry his ward, Rosina and hence the vendetta against Figaro for thwarting his plans. There is a level of aggression and violence as the Count takes what he wants and a compliance from the staff, apart from Susanna. The attempt at entrapment by Marcellina as the older woman tries to invoke the terms of a loan contract to force Figaro's hand in marriage is also bizarre in the belief that people can be used as a form of debt collection. There is however redemption in the fact that the women do stand up for themselves, Susanna plotting to trick the Count into leaving her alone on her wedding night, the Countess seeking to expose her husband's philandering and Barbarina's blackmail to get the Count to back down on his banishment of Cherubino.
Whilst the opera is sung in Italian, the humor is evident through the performance and the music even while McVicar has opted to have this worked played with a seriousness and sincerity. Fiebig and Bordogna capture the young couple's love beautifully with Fiebig displaying Susanna's wit and intelligence that often exceeds Figaro's. Dark gives Marcellina a wicked dark side as she schemes with Dr Bartolo and also a sensuality and playfullness as she breaks away from Marcellina's staid, proper persona when she is overcome with lust. Her sparring duet with Fiebig's Susanna adds a lightness and recognition as many can relate to verbal spats between hellcats trying to maintain an air of sophistication. Dark's little facial expressions are priceless and her display of Marcellina's glee that the Magistrate Don Curzio rules that Figaro must marry her in terms of the contract is reminiscent of Jennifer Coolidge's Sophie from "Two Broke Girls".
The Countess's aria in Act III is beautiful in its pained purity as Car captures the sad state the Countess has found herself in and decides to win back her husband's affection. Car and Fiebig work well together to show the loyalty between maid and mistress as they conspire as friends rather than displaying the social class difference. Susanna's aria in Act IV is clear and pure as Fiebig captures the bride's love.
The lighthearted story and wonderful performances are enhanced by designer Jenny Tiramani's set and costumes that capture the feel of a 17th Century Vermeer painting even down to the use of blues for the staff and rays of light spilling across the stage. Tiramani has drawn on historical research to create the division between the aristocracy and the workers, and further define the 'below stairs' hierarchy. The Count and Countess are dressed in sumptuous fabrics and extravagant laces which until the end display a disparity between his powerful black and her more lighter colors. Marcellina, Dr Bartolo, music master Don Basilio and lawyer Don Curzio are dressed in a more staid black indicating their connection to religious conservatism and higher rank in the castle. The gauze patched curtain that hides the stage during changes allows more parallels to the paintings of the time as the images are held before lights are lowered. The high ceiling rooms helps define the Count's standing and the grandeur of the castle. There is also a good demonstration of the difference between the servants' quarters and the public spaces from the storeroom where Figaro measures out space to fit the marital bed to the Countess' bedchamber that looks like something out of the Palace of Versailles and other similar stately 17th Century castles and palaces.
This new offering from Opera Australia is a delight in not just Mozart's beautiful score but also the acting, sets and costumes. The comedy and frivolity of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO is a refreshing change from the operas that usually contain a murder or someone dying of an incurable illness but the way in which McVicar has approached it allows it to be seen for more than just the silliness. This is a lovely introduction to Opera for first timers and a beautiful production for aficionados.
Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
6 - 29 August 2015