first night

The Marriage of Figaro

A mammoth feat. Bertie Gall reviews

 Durham Opera Ensemble

 

In her program notes, the director of DOE’s production of W.A. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Anna Bailey, calls the piece a ‘celebrity leviathan of an opera’, and it is not surprising that she feels this way. Having taken on a very ambitious work she and her fellow DOE members have evidently worked extremely hard to create a successful production which, on Opening Night yesterday, was delightful in many ways.

The four main characters were well cast, Susanna and the Countess in particular. Charlotte La Thrope (who is to be replaced in the role of Susanna on the 17th and 19th by Laura Ralph) seemed a little nervous during the first scene, but warmed into her role magnificently to become one of the strongest members of the cast. Emily Owen (to be replaced by Polly Leech) showed her experience of the role of Countess in an effortless performance of a vocal part which allowed her to make the most of the extraordinary purity of her high range.

The Count, played by Leo Morrell, was suitably haughty and unpleasant and his stage presence was commanding, though his voice at times lacked the support necessary for such a challenging part. Similary James Hyde (Figaro)’s voice was beautiful in tone and showed great promise but, being not yet mature enough to compete with the full force of the orchestra, was often drowned. Although this was not helped by his blocking, which often found him facing away from the audience. On the whole, however, these four did very well indeed in their large roles.

At times the supporting characters were stronger than the principles. Fleur Moore-Bridger (Marcellina) and Daniel Tate (Doctor Bartolo) demonstrated greater vocal maturity than the leads, and Rosy Rowell (Cherubino) sang as clearly and sweetly as the role requires with flawless control. The latter fulfilled the comic element with particular flair, bringing a hilarious variety of facial expressions to the part, and all three contributed a great deal to the success of the whole.

Although the chorus had one or two slightly awkward mimed filler-scenes, most of the time they were used very effectively. The director’s choice to have them express extreme boredom when singing the Count’s praises was a particularly successful comic technique and a clever way around the fact that a chorus often seems unnatural and ungainly to a modern audience.

It was clear that the production team had put a good deal of thought into presentation, and the set and costumes just right for the ambience of the opera, especially the Count’s pastel-pink tailcoat and knee-high boots. The setting of Castle’s Great Hall was needless to say ideal, and very good use had been made of the space.

The orchestra itself played well, and although the execution was not as slick backstage as it was onstage – there were one or two pretty hair-raising moments, and the ensemble was not always together – it must be appreciated that this is a challenging work, and that much of it is extremely exposed. Though space limitations meant that they were invisible to the audience, the orchestra was a vital and on the whole successful part of the performance.

This was altogether a thoroughly enjoyable production, well cast, well directed and well performed. DOE have captured the light-hearted atmosphere and delightful implausibility of The Marriage of Figaro, and have produced something which is quite charming and which, by Sunday, I am sure will be perfectly slick.

 

* * * *

Bertie Gall

16 February 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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