The Marriage of Figaro

Patrick Summers
Sydney Morning Herald

By Peter McCallum

THIS was the same fresh young cast that Opera Australia announced at the beginning of the year for Benedict Andrews's new production in which Mozart's Figaro was to have been a security guard and Susanna a maid in a modern gated mansion.

That production was shelved on the grounds of cost and box-office nervousness after the company lost about $1 million last year. But ever resourceful in its new-found penury, the national opera company rootled through the clothing bin and graced the same singers with Dale Ferguson's faux-18th-century design, with fading drapes reminiscent of peasant livery and yellowing manuscripts, in Neil Armfield's joyously lively 2001 production.

Hand-me-downs notwithstanding, it has never worked better. Taryn Fiebig is a natural as Susanna, singing with brightness, clarity and musical comeliness, and bringing to the true and feisty servant's role a vivacious sense of delight.

With boyish dramatic spirit as Figaro, Teddy Tahu Rhodes's Mozart singing moves from strength to strength and displays truly admirable precision. In the first act, he was inclined to be a little unvaried tonally - with consistently projected force, his voice is not naturally light - but the duet with Fiebig in Act 1 was a beautiful pairing of complementary sounds.

As the Countess, Rachelle Durkin mixed statuesque hauteur with girlish puppy love, singing the Countess's second aria with refined phrasing and beautifully poised tonal control. She created a glowing close to the opera in the final scene.

Armfield has always directed the Countess's attitude to Cherubino as a potentially destabilising adult crush, and Sian Pendry sings Cherubino's miraculously perfect two arias with a bright sound of blossoming freshness. It was a great pleasure to hear Dr Bartolo sung as much more than a character role, with Warwick Fyfe making it a complex and musically sophisticated part.

Jacqueline Dark's Marcellina was witty and carefully edged in the fourth-act aria, and with Fiebig's brimming sense of hurt and what is right, the recognition scene in which Figaro's true parentage is revealed was genuinely (and unusually) touching.

Peter Coleman-Wright always does a fine line in male arrogance and was vocally aristocratic and dramatically supercilious, creating a distinctly human type of obnoxiousness. Kanen Breen was wickedly obsequious and officious as Don Basilio and Don Curzio, while Claire Lyon brought simple clarity of line to Barbarina's tragic aria on the loss of a pin.

Excellent as the cast was, a large amount of credit for the evening's musical success must go to the conductor, Patrick Summers, for steering all this energy, and a responsive orchestra and chorus, with fine dramatic pace, musical discernment and unfailing good taste.