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03 January, 2007

Marriage of Figaro at the Sydney Opera House - fine opening to summer season

Sydney Opera House

Tuesday 2nd January 2007

FigaroJoshua Bloom
SuzannaTiffany Speight
Dr BartoloJud Arthur
MarcellinaAdele Johnston
CherubinoSally-Anne Russell
Count AlmavivaJosé Carbó
Don BasilioGraeme Macfarlane
Countess AlmavivaLeanne Kenneally
c.Alexander Briger
p.Neil Armfield.

Dear Colleagues,

Having been strongly critical of the national company recently (and there have been some awful gaffs), I also should give credit where it is due. So ten points out of ten for the premiere of Nozze di Figaro in Armfield and Ferguson's 'vinegar and brown paper' revival.

I was told that conductor Alexander Briger is a nephew of Sir Charles Mackerras. He clearly has an excellent 'handle' on Mozart yet he is apparently prepared to countenance some liberties both in tempi and vocal ornamentation. We heard Sally-Anne Russell as Cherubino singing ‘Voi che sapete’, one of the most perfectly constructed arias in the canon. But it was gilded with ever-increasing ornamentation, including grace notes, triplets, runs and possibly acciaccaturas, each to no apparent purpose, and losing some of the grand simplicity and symmetry of the work. For the countess, ‘Porgi amor’ was sung ‘come scritto’ but its parallel number, ‘Dove sono’ was ornamented slightly, once again, one wonders to what effect. Did somebody think they would improve the original Mozart? Some of my knowledgeable correspondants are persuaded that Mozart actually approved these versions, but I am still not used to them.

Yet these are small criticisms of an otherwise marvellous operatic night at the theatre. Figaro, after all, is a moral comedy about sex, fidelity, identity, humiliation and comeuppance. Its first lines are about the placement of a wedding bed, a gift from a rival who lives in the next room! Taken too seriously, this opera's drama, like Magic Flute, can drag on interminably, despite the wonderful music, starting out with one of the best-ever overtures.

José Carbó sang Count Almaviva with great flare. He was bare chested in act I and suitably regal in military black velvet for his formal scenes. He may have also taken some liberties with his third act aria. Joshua Bloom again showed himself to have what it takes both vocally and dramatically with a totally convincing Figaro. Like Cherubino in act I, he was required to simulate sex on stage, lowering his baroque pantaloons more than once in the last act (at least he was married by then!). His dramatic and comic sense were a perfect foil for his substantial and pleasant baritone voice.

Leanne Kenneally played an elegant and conservative Countess (Rosina). Her 2 big arias were creditable - as was her stage sense and recitatives - she is a great asset to the company.

Tiffany Speight, a one-time Cherubino, sang and acted an excellent Suzanna on this outing. Her last act ‘Deh vieni, non tadar’ was admirable. Sally-Anne Russell was fine on this occasion in the gender-bender role of Cherubino. She was especially good in the difficult ‘Non so piu’ aria. The other supporting principals were also finely cast and performed well, as did the chorus and orchestra. For once, the voices, stage, orchestra pit and auditorium all seemed appropriate in size.

Being in two halves, the evening was robbed of an interval, saving some funds for both orchestra and perhaps some contract baby-sitters at home. I think Nozze should have two intermissions but I may be in the minority. I would also not be averse to more cuts in the longer scenes.

Hats off to the company for a great start to another year of grand opera in Sydney and Melbourne.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..