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The Marriage of Figaro
English National Opera
Mozart’s most revolutionary comic opera tackles traditional gender roles and class society. But packages it in scintillating orchestral writing and vocal fireworks. It is based on the play by Beaumarchais first performed in 1784. At the time the play was banned in Vienna due its subversive subject matter.
As a result of the ‘#MeToo’ movement, situations where wealthy and powerful men sexually harass women have become a key issue, so Mozart’s 200-year-old opera is as relevant as ever.
This revival of Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production brings all the fun, sharp class satire and subversive content to the fore. As an actor and theatre director, she is able to tease out the innate theatricality and full comic potential.
Figaro and Susanna’s wedding plans are threatened when Count Almaviva seems bent on seducing Susanna before her marriage. Along with the deceived Countess, Figaro and Susanna create a scheme to outwit the Count and teach him a lesson.
It is almost impossible to single out particular individuals as all the voices are excellent. Lucy Crowe, with her velvet, powerful but sensitive tone, stars as the deceived Countess, opposite bass-baritone Ashley Riches as the philandering Count. Rhian Lois plays the ever-resourceful Susanna, with Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans as Figaro and Katie Coventry sings Cherubino.
Peter MacKintosh’s superb pared-down scenery of white, translucent flat screens rotating on a revolving stage, like a merry-go-round of life, provides the setting for the various rooms in the palace as well as the Goyaesque outside scenes.
It has its share of slap-stick humour, but doesn’t dodge the seriousness of the issues. The macho Count is not let off the hook and our sympathies are with the two servants who simply want to be allowed to marry and lead their own lives. The final scene obliges the arrogant and womanising Almaviva to take his bow in his underpants, his dignity completely stripped.
The opera oscillates between heart-breaking arias on love and betrayal and comic ensemble numbers. The mellifluous music can sometimes threaten to mask the subversive content, but Jeremy Sams’s inventive English version of the original libretto is witty, lively and brings out the underlying class and gender issues.
The accelerating complexity and symmetrical resolution which is at the core of Mozart's style enabled him to find a musical equivalent for the stage works that were his dramatic models. His Figaro is the dramatic equal of Beaumarchais's play.
Performances: March 29 and April 4,6,10,12 and 14. Box office www.eno.org/ and (020) 7845-9300.
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