Le nozze di Figaro, Royal Opera | Opera reviews, news & interviews
Le nozze di Figaro, Royal Opera
Strong David McVicar revival of Mozart's charmer is full of detail and darkness
When blithe Susanna and not the expected Cherubino emerges from hiding before the astonished Countess and enraged Count, the latter instantly back-pedals on the fury he has been heaping upon his seemingly faithless wife. She rounds on him: “Crudele, più quella non sono!” (“Traitor, I am no longer her”) and everything suddenly stops. It's a tiny two-beat rest that usually goes for nothing except the signal for a key change, but here the moment is charged with drama. The Count shoots apologetic looks to cover his shame and the Countess painfully registers her lost trust. That vivid attention to musical and dramatic detail is thrillingly typical of this first-rate production.
With a score and libretto as precise as this – I’d argue it’s the finest in the entire operatic repertoire – it’s depressing how generalised many Figaros turn out to be. But from its first outing in 2006 (available on DVD), attention to detail was the hallmark of David McVicar’s Royal Opera production. Not all its subsequent outings have been as happy, but this new incarnation, directed by Leah Hausman and conducted by Antonio Pappano, really is a revival in every sense.
The entire company presents a reminder, in the subtlest of ways, of the revolutionary nature of this masterpiece
Much of the excitement comes via the new casting. As the Countess, bold-voiced Rachel Willis-Sørensen makes an outstanding debut. The idea that a phrase repeated should grow in meaning is hardly radical, but it’s thrilling nevertheless to hear someone who understands the dramatic potential of “Dove sono”. Instead of delivering a neatly subdued portrait of all-purpose regret, Willis-Sørensen holds on to an ever-deepening ache in the aria that leads her to deliver the da capo section with upsetting intensity.
She’s more than matched by Lucas Meachem’s Count. His voice may not be the largest but it’s truly lustrous. It’s immensely characterful and flexible and he really knows how to use it. At full throttle it's darkly threatening and even when he tosses off an extra trill at the top it’s in service of his character.
Winningly, he’s also physically relaxed on stage which lends him natural authority. With the Count’s nemesis Cherubino cropping up everywhere, baritones usually resort to “furious” acting that, paradoxically, makes them look weak. But Meachem’s bullying is dangerously nasty because rather than blustering, he‘s calm. As a result, his final, exquisitely hushed “perdono” – his climactic plea for forgiveness – is deeply moving.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Fresh revival with strong cast and dynamic conducting from Jakub Hrůša
Donizetti gets Glyndebourne's season off to a sober and psychological start
Broad brushstrokes and big voices in Calixto Bieito's pacey but half-cooked Bizet
Much-loved music director begins his long goodbye with Wagner's ritual drama
Claire Rutter leads a strong cast in dimly lit, static version of Verdi's camp melodrama
Barrie opera colourfully scored and staged but musically short-winded
Fascinating programme and ravishing delivery undermined by symbolic bric-a-brac
Savoyard supreme Mike Leigh and top cast play it straight to serve a comic masterpiece
Too much talk and not enough song
Superior performance makes a compelling case for Smetana’s neglected masterpiece
A triumphant return to the stage for Szymanowski's neglected score
Perfect Savoyards excel in trial by telly and sweet zoological love story