Just over three years have passed since Count Almaviva won the heart
and hand of Rosina, and now Sir Thomas Allen has returned to direct
the sequel, Le nozze di Figaro, for Scottish Opera.
Not much has changed in the passage of time. The story still hinges
on the older generation of Dr Bartolo, Don Basilio and Marcellina with
the assistance of Antonio versus the randy teenagers Rosina, Cherubino,
Barbarina and Susanna, with Figaro and the Count somewhere in the middle.
It is the day Figaro marries Susanna, the Countess's maid, only Susanna
has to tell Figaro that the Count is determined to have his way with
her before Figaro does. Add to that Cherubino, the Count's page, who
has the hots for any female with a pulse, Rosina who is feeling neglected
by the Count, and Marcellina, who has the hots for Figaro.
As in his earlier production, Allen provides lots of little details
which fill out the narrative. For instance, Figaro's opening aria includes
a couple of IKEA moments, as he tries to assemble the bed.
The curtain rises midway through the overture to reveal, remarkably
close to the windows of the Big House, a field of wheat sheaves which
the chorus load on to the tumbrel delivering the nuptial bed of Figaro
and Susanna - a nod to the revolutionary intent of Beaumarchais' original
This late summer setting is carried through in the old gold and russet
palette of Simon Higlett's design, while Mark Jonathan's lighting realistically
tracks the sun throughout the twenty-four hours of the action.
Nadine Livingston, a Scottish Opera Emerging Artist, is excellent as
a lively Susanna, assailed by the Count's unwelcome advances. Warm-voiced
Thomas Oliemans reprises the character of Figaro which he played in
the earlier production of Il barbiere di Siviglia. Although he
thinks he can still outsmart the Count (Se vuol ballare) and patronises
Cherubino (Non piu andrai), even he has doubts (Aprite un po' quegli
Francesco Facini, as Dr Bartolo, affects a vibrato which makes a more
attractive older man than the usual querulousness - a vibrato that vanishes
in the machine-gun precision of his patter songs. The smugness of Don
Basilio (Harry Nicoll) grates as it ingratiates. Leah-Marian Jones as
Marcellina is one of the new-wave glamorous 'crones', clearly channelling
As the Countess, Kate Valentine does look and sound as if she might
be in her late teens. When she is joined in her chamber with Cherubino
(Ulrike Mayer) and Susanna, the raging teenage hormones are palpable.
Their plots and counterplots to thwart the Count and win his love back
to Rosina are suitably extravagant and, in varying degrees, unworkable
and courting disaster. Mayer is a lively and petulant Cherubino, Valentine
languishing as the lovelorn Rosina.
Allen's production is so slick and never lets up that, for the lecherous
Count (Roderick Williams), it's just one damn thing after another. No
sooner has he sorted things out (he thinks), than something else blows
up. When it turns out that Figaro is the son of Dr Bartolo and Marcellina,
it is nearly the last straw. By the end, when he kneels before Rosina
(and the rest of his household) to beg her forgiveness, we could almost
feel sorry for him.
The chorus, in its moments of harmonious glory, adds to the naturalism
of this highly entertaining production. And, even with the brisk pace
and despite a couple of moments where there might have been a wobble
in the orchestra, conductor Francesco Corti keeps it all together.