“I have seen grander productions of The Marriage of Figaro… but not better ones.”
It’s hard not to enjoy Figaro. The tunes are familiar, the plot is a delightful melange of innocent deceit and caprice, and all ends happily. It is true, however, that the subject matter of powerful men demanding sex from young women who are effectively in their thrall has deeply unpleasant contemporary undertones. However the sheer good nature of the plot, the cunning of the women involved in cleverly winding up and trapping the men (aided and abetted by the master of cunning himself, Figaro), allows us to dismiss any politically correct concerns. It’s a lot more female friendly than The Benny Hill Show, and overall is a happy opera that allows us to laugh at the foibles of human nature as we re-attach ourselves to the finer strands of love, forgiveness and commitment. Cosi Fan Tutte it is not.
This production is staged by Edinburgh Studio Opera: a well-established group of University music (and other disciplines) students who team up with musicians starting out on their professional careers, and on the whole is a very successful follow-up to last year’s triumph, Carmen.
It uses a number of quite clever production devices in its storytelling in order to compensate for its stripped back set (a necessity of student productions!) – just clothes hampers and a door. We are led to believe we are watching an opera audition to start with, with cast getting into their costumes on stage. Quite why the chorus is dressed in black with grotesque make up in the manner of a Greek Chorus such as in Bacchae, is harder to understand, but arguably acts as a reminder that at this moment there are three entities in play; us, the audience; such actors as were robed; and the chorus being aspirant players hoping to get in on some of the action (which ultimately they did).
For me, this device works because the opera starts off with just two people on stage and the full company arrives only later on. For the guise to return just as the interval and finish approach, as the chorus cast off their (over) garments on stage and wheel them off in laundry baskets is .entertaining but puzzling. Again, perhaps a reminder that we were watching an audition, but could have been more thoroughly explored to make a clearer through-line. Other charming (if a little bizarre) moments are when the chorus also act as a very animated set of trees in the forest scene, a humorous foil to the shenanigans going on between the Count and Cherubino.
The libretto is sung in English with a commendable clarity that engages from the start. There is some fine solo as well as ensemble singing, with Jessica Conway (Rosina) delivering a couple of demanding arias very close together more than capably, while Jonathan Forbes Kennedy’s Count and Timothy Edmunson’s Figaro bring just the right balance of authority and vulnerability to their parts both vocally and with their acting. But for me, the star of the evening without doubt is Sarah Gilford’s Susanna, who not only sings beautifully, but acts with coquettish smiles, joyful humour and a streak of kind cunning. The Count never had a chance.
The production runs until the 4th March and I strongly recommend it for its inventive, professional approach. Ingenuity and creativity, allied to committed singing, acting and orchestral playing soon make one forget the necessarily stripped production. It is a joy from start to finish, and played for laughs which come aplenty. I have seen grander productions of The Marrage of Figaro, but not, in terms of sheer engagement with the work, better ones. It feels as if the company really are giving it all they have, perhaps in the absence of more luxurious proscenium arch props, which sprinkles it with an extra layer of magic.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes(Seen 28 February)
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