“Irish National Opera’s Marriage of Figaro is a triumph.” Review

Wednesday, 18 April, 2018
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Review by Patrick Viale www.nomoreworkhorse

In its publicity for their production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Irish National Opera promises us an evening of sharp comedy and sublime music. In neither area does this production disappoint. Under Patrick Mason’s direction and the baton of Peter Whelan, this is an evening of unalloyed pleasure from beginning to end.

Like Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Mozart’s Figaro is based on an eighteenth-century play by Pierre de Beaumarchais. While initially banned on grounds of its perceived scandalous subject matter and disregard for moral and sexual restraint, the real cause may lie its depiction of the hypocrisy of the upper classes and their exploitation of their subordinates.

The opera, which was first performed in Vienna in 1786, was credited by Napoleon himself as foreshadowing the French Revolution which took place a few years after its first performance. While Mozart remained faithful to the original storyline, his sense of fun and mischief and his glorious music adds a lightness to the story while never ignoring the tale of betrayal, deceit and forgiveness at the heart of the opera.

In The Barber of Seville, Count Almaviva had pursued and finally won the heart of his beloved Rosina, with the assistance of the local “factotum della città”, Figaro. Now, some years later, it is Figaro who is planning to marry the feisty servant girl, Susanna. Though still professing love for his Countess, Rosina, the Count has one roving eye on Susanna and sets about trying to seduce her, to the dismay of his wife and of his former friend, Figaro. But this is opera and what follows is a catalogue of crossed-wires, deceptions, disguises, with the discovery of long-lost parents and a cross-dressed suitor in the mix.

Patrick Mason’s production delivers everything Mozart could have hoped for, an entertaining but also profoundly moving evening at the theatre. Setting operas in a more contemporary era has become something of a gimmick that often distracts and seems imposed on the work but here his 1960s mise en scène works perfectly, adding a kaleidoscope of colour and playfulness to the evening. Francis O’Connor’s set is unfussy but effective and the ease and speed with which it can change from the Countess’s boudoir to the pine grove where the lovers are to meet could act as a masterclass for aspiring stage designers. Paul Keogan’s lighting is impressive, particularly as it drifts from sunset to night in the last act.

But opera is nothing without the singers and the tumultuous applause with which they were all greeted at the end of the evening was a well-deserved reflection of their truly remarkable performances. It is rare to hear an opera where none of the singers disappoints but that was the case here. From his opening bars when New Zealand bass, Jonathan Lemanu as Figaro, measured out the room where he and Susanna were to sleep, it was obvious that we could relax. Here was not only a glorious rich voice but an actor with a great sense of comedy, well matched by Tara Erraught’s Susanna. It is no surprise that Erraught has had such success in Europe and the USA. She has it all: a stunning voice, great stage presence and a huge comedic talent. Maire Flavin’s Countess, from the very opening of “Porgi Amor” captured the sadness and disillusion of her situation but we also saw the more frivolous Rosina of Barber of Seville days in her interplay with Susanna and Cherubino. Ben McAteer’s Count was suitably bumptious, frustrated at every turn, and wholly convincing.

As the gangly adolescent Cherubino, falling in love with every woman he sees, Aoife Miskelly was excellent, looking like a great big puppy tripping over his own legs and adding great fun to the role. Even the more minor roles were perfectly judged. Amy Ni Fhearraigh’s “L’ho perduta” worked well and it was a real pleasure to see Suzanne Murphy back on a Dublin stage. I still remember her mesmeric performance as Cinderella in 1974 and while her voice may have lost some of the freshness it had then, she retains an engaging stage presence and sense of fun. It was a bonus for Mason to allow her showcase her voice in the often-omitted aria, “La capra e la capretta”.  The same was true for Adrian Thompson’s pompous Don Basilio, including “In quegl’anni” in Act 4 where he tells a tall tale about a smelly ass’s skin.

Irish National Opera’s Marriage of Figaro is a triumph. It may not be easy to get tickets for it at this stage but it is worth queueing to try to get returns. If you are an opera lover, or even if you just enjoy a fun evening at the theatre, you will regret it if you miss it.