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A marriage made in heaven - and long may it last!

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 endorse it.

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 in it.

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 evening

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 Matthew O'Connor.
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.

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