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Le Nozze di Figaro

Royal Opera House

JUSTweeks after The Barber of Seville graced the Covent Garden stage, Beaumarchais's more controversial follow up pitting master against servant arrives. The Marriage of Figaro develops the earlier story with Count Almaviva and Rosina now not only long married, but weary and cynical of each other.

Figaro has given up the scissors and become Almaviva's valet and plans on marrying Susanna, maid to the Countess (Dorothea Röschmann). The Count (Gerald Finley), though, has decided to reinstate an old feudal right that the master can have his way with any female servants on their wedding night, which immediately slips into a bedroom farce as funny as any of those that played in Aldwych 30 years ago.

So starts a wonderful, funny energetic new David McVicar production, which is moved from late 18th century Spain to the 1830s. Figaro launches into such a collection of Mozart's greatest hits that only fools could mess up an opera as classic as this. McVicar and conductor Antonio Pappano are no fools. This is a masterpiece.

Erwin Schott, the Uruguayan baritone, is excellent as the very likeable love-struck but angry Figaro, feeling let down by the Count, who he had helped in the prequel to win Rosina from her over-bearing guardian Doctor Bartolo (Jonathan Veira), and feeling harassed by the attentions and machinations of housekeeper Marcellina (Graciela Araya).

Swedish soprano Miah Persson, yet another gorgeous blonde - Joyce DiDonato played Rosina in Barber - is Susanna, deeply in love with Figaro, and fiercely protective of Cherubino (Israeli mezzo Rinat Shaham), the pageboy infatuated with the Countess but entwined with Barbarina, the gardener's daughter, and who gets to sing one of the great arias, Voi che sapete. Persson, on the night I went, received applause from other members of the cast. It was well deserved but could it have been a bit of office politics to put another cast member in their place? (For further reflections on that sort of thing read any extensive biography of Maria Callas.)

Glorious set

This is far more of an ensemble piece than Barber and has those wonderful singing combinations that Mozart perfected, as well as plot twists - and there are enough plots to be twisted - as the story ties up a few loose ends from the earlier one on which Barber was based, including the question of Figaro's parentage, a scene played with immaculate comedic timing.

The similarities with that other Mozart/da Ponte comedy classic Cossi fan tutti are obvious - the distrust between the couples, the interfering elders and the humility as they reconcile their differences - but how bad is that?

Tanya McCallin's set is glorious, moving with ease from a grand hall into the soon-to-be newly wed's sleeping quarters in the first half and then from the hall to the garden in the second. That the movement of scenery is so fluid nowadays means there is only one interval, which is of great benefit to an opera as fast paced as Figaro.

Pappano, who also takes to the harpsichord, and his small orchestra perform with delicacy throughout and they are not let down by the performers on stage; both the acting and the singing, particularly in the first act and particularly Finley, are all you want in a world-class opera house.

There may not be too many new operas arriving at Covent Garden, but they are masters with the old ones.

Review by Peter Wilson

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