Review by David Munro
IT IS not often that I agree with the press release of a show
I review, but in this instance, I not only agree with it, I heartily
This updated version of The Marriage of Figaro comes up
fresh minted, as it first did in Vienna, and 'perfectly reflects
what Mozart originally intended'.
What more can I say? After years of waiting for the fat lady
to sing, I for once wanted more at the final curtain.
Gone were the longeurs of yesteryear, when reverent productions
by over-promoted repetiteurs reduced the sparkle of the score
to a succession of well-sung but dreary arias.
The other night at the Drill Hall, I saw a witty libretto
enhancing a joyous and glittering score, beautifully performed
by a cast who could not only sing, but could act! Irreverence
was the order of the night and how I, as well as the cast, revelled
To see a Susanna who is not only pert but pretty with it, and
with a voice that can do full justice to Mozart, is what every
opera buff desires.
Kathleen Schueppert fulfils those desires to perfection. If any
performance can have been said to dominate the evening, it was
hers. Her appearance was charming and her transformation into
the mock "Countess" at the end highlighted her beauty
and made one wish to see her in more elegant roles.
This is not intended to denigrate Figaro in any way. As played
and sung by Nigel Richards, he was a worthy match and foil to
her performance. His personification of Figaro as a good-hearted,
streetwise servant was perfect for the role and he held his own
in the singing department as well.
Theirs were the pair of performances for which Beaumarchais and
Da Ponte must have longed.
A pity they aren't around to share our enjoyment of their work.
Or is it the work of the author of the new 'book' we must thank?
Tony Britten, who also directed, has cleverly updated the plot,
using the jargons and adjuncts of everyday life, such as e-mails,
with skill and discretion. Nothing jars with the style of the
18th Century music or the style of the comedy.
His transformation of Count Almaviva into Sir Michael, a venal
politician with his eyes on the leadership, was a masterstroke
and in Julian Forsyth he had singer-actor-comedian who was able
to do full justice to his conceit.
In the same vein, Basilio becomes a spin doctor to whom Stephen
Ashfield gave a Scottish accent and a performance which left one
under no illusions as to the merit or otherwise of that particular
aspect of political chicanery.
Mary Lincoln. as Sir Michael's wife (strangely still called the
"Countess" in the cast list, although referred to by
the protagonists as Rosina). brought elegance, charm and humour
to what is always a thankless role and she handled her main arias
with style and a strong vocal line.
As the two conspirators. Bartolo and Marcellina, here transformed
into a Lawyer and Sir Michael's secretary and PA, Simon Masterton
Smith and Rosamund Shelley scheme and connive with gusto and good
humour, lending their voices to the ensembles to good effect.
My only small cavil is with regard to Cherubino, who (although
admirably portrayed and excellently sung by Melanie Gutteridge),
was, as conceived and directed by Tony Britten, more of a guttersnipe
than a credible godson to the Countess. It was none the less an
amusing portrayal, which fitted in with the high spirits of the
evening if not into the household.
The set, designed by Alison Cartledge, against which all the
plots and counterplots were carried through, consisted of moveable
podiums, which served when turned round, as either an interior,
or the garden when required; ingeniously framing the action with
the minimum of fuss and effort.
Last, but by no means least, was the admirable playing of the
orchestra, which, though small in size, under the direction of
Nicholas Bloomfield proved that small is still good and well-deserved
the vociferous round of applause they received at the end of the
As you will have gathered, this was a marriage to which I was
glad to have been invited; a happy occasion, at which one, whose
metier is the musical, felt well at home.
It was one so tasteful that I feel sure that even a hardened
opera aficionado would have welcomed an invitation and raised
his (or her) glass in celebration.
Don't miss it, or you will miss an opportunity to discover how
accessible opera is even if you have no musical knowledge or inclination.
This is a marriage made in heaven and long may it last at the
Drill Hall and elsewhere
The Marriage of Figaro by Beaumarchais, adapted by Da Ponte
and Tony Britten, Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lyricists
Da Ponte and Tony Britten, Directed by Tony Britten, Musical Director
Nicolas Bloomfield, Design by Alison Cartledge, Lighting Designer
WITH: Stephen Ashfield (Basilio), Julian Forsyth (Sir Michael),
Melanie Gutteridge (Cherubino), Mary Lincoln (Countess), Simon
Masterton-Smith Bartolo/Antonio), Nigel Richards (Figaro), Kathleen
Schueppert (Susanna), Rosamund Shelley (Marcellina). Presented
by Music Theatre London and The Drill Hall, at The Drill Hall,
16 Chenies Street, London WC1.