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NZ Opera’s Figaro is a dazzling piece of theatre

Reviwed by John Daly-Peoples

Richard Ollarsaba (Figaro) and Jonna Foote (Susanna) Image – David Rowland

The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte from a work by Beaumarchais

New Zealand Opera

Aotea Centre, Auckland

Until June  13

Then Opera House Wellington June 23 – 27 and Isaac Theatre Christchurch July 8 – 13

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Napoleon once remarked that Beaumarchais’ original play The Marriage of Figaro which had been condemned and censored after its first production for anti-aristocratic ideas was an example of the revolution in action. Mozart’s version of the play which premiered in 1786 in Vienna was permitted only after Mozart and the librettist Da Ponte had assured the Emperor Joseph II that the political aspects of the play would be removed. While the more political aspects of the original were removed  Mozart’s creation has an underlying anti-establishment theme.

Mozart like a number of the liberal thinkers of the late eighteenth century was a closet revolutionary who introduced his ideas about a new social order and personal responsibilities into his all his late operas. Despotic royals always get their just desserts with their frailties, deceptions and lack of morality exposed.

The opera tells the story of Figaro who is about to be married to Susanna. He is a servant in the court of Count Almaviva who sees himself as one of the great liberals of the time as he has repudiated the long established “droite de seigneur” at his court but even though that is the official line he is intent on bedding Susanna.

Most of the opera is concerned with thwarting the Count in his endeavours. But there are other parts to the convoluted tale such as the  Countess who is aware  of her husband’s dalliances and seeks to outwit him. Then there is Cherubino, a youth who is infatuated with the Countess and most of the other women. Another sub plot which adds to the complications. Marcellino, Dr Bartolli’s housekeeper has lent Figaro some money and demands that he marry her if he cannot repay her. The various plots create havoc by introducing deceits, disguises and secret letters.

John Moore (Count Almaviva) and Jonna Foote (Susanna) Image – David Rowland

Lindy Hume’s  latest production of the work for NZ Opera is a dazzling piece of theatre with extraordinary voices and inspired acting .

Emma Pearson sang the role of  the Countess with a silvery, opulent voice and with her Act 3 “I remember his love so tender” (“Dove sono”) she emanated a delicious warmth, bringing a strong feeling of sadness. Joanna Foote as Susanna created a multi layered character who exuded confidence as through she were born to the role. When she was on stage, she seemed to galvanize the rest of the cast, singing with a captivating freshens and liveliness.

Figaro sung by   Richard Ollarsaba performed with a rich controlled voice, his every gesture finely tuned while John Moore  gave a superb account as the dissolute Count Almaviva inhabiting the stage with a commanding presence.

Bianca Andrew’s frisky Cherubino was a natural comic actor with an equally mischievous voice.

Emma Pearson (Countess Almaviva) and Bianca Andrew (Cherubino) Image – David Rowland

The rest of the cast of Kristin Darragh (Marcellina), Andrew Collis  (Don Bartolo), Andrew Grenon (Don Basilio), Imogen Thirlwall (Barbarina) and Joel Amosa (Antonio) were also superb, all  displaying an intelligent approach to their parts with singing which conveyed character and emotion.

The set design by Tracy Grant Lord took a minimalist approach with a series of light filled boxes which were used to create a series of spaces – drawing room, bedroom and garden. Their translucent shapes highlighted the frequent reference to notes and legal documents which disrupt the narrative as well as the shower of paper which concludes the opera.

Another aspect of the design and costumes managed link the eighteenth century and the present with elegant furniture  mixed with schoolroom seats while flowing white gowns and dapper clothes contrasting with twenty-first century suits.

Galvanizing the whole performance was the glorious music which was delivered by the Auckland Philharmonia under the baton of the enthusiastic Zoe Zeniodi.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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