Opera Review: The Marriage of Figaro

Patrick Summers
Hornsby Advocate (Australia)

By Melissa Lesnie

Last year, Opera Australia announced an ambitious potentially controversial new staging of The Marriage of Figaro in a strikingly modern setting as part of the 2010 season.

This production never materialised but Neil Armfield’s offering is far more than a safe bet: he holds a mirror to Mozart’s lightness of touch and seemingly effortless mastery of drama through music.

Designs by Dale Ferguson capture Figaro’s Seville with simple elegance and humour, drawing from Goya’s portraits of 18th century peasants and nobility in order to highlight the class distinctions bubbling under the surface. One can’t help but smile at the charming but subtle anachronistic touches that pop up throughout.

Rachelle Durkin and Sian Pendry proved themselves as exceptional leading ladies in Mozart with last year’s Cosi fan tutte. Durkin’s Countess is a supremely graceful creature whose Porgi, amor touches the depths of heartbroken despair, yet she also brings to the role an understated gift for comic timing.

Armfield makes an important distinction in Act II, intimating a moment’s revived chemistry between Count Almaviva and his wife where most productions fail to acknowledge that she could remain, deep down, an object of his desires, however distant or distracted they may be.

As Cherubino, the lovably girlish boy on the threshold of manhood, Sian Pendry showcases her comic flair more brazenly, delivering her two remarkable arias with warmth and purity of tone.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Taryn Fiebig seem a natural coupling as Figaro and his beloved Susanna, each enchanting and lively. Fiebig sings with bright-toned relish and a delightful sense of spontaneity.

Watching her flit playfully across the stage, enticing the lustful count to follow with equally demure footsteps, yields one of the production’s most memorable moments.

Peter Coleman-Wright offers a superbly acted - and surprisingly touching - account of Almaviva’s sins and foibles, adeptly handling that all-important transformation from an aristocratic sense of entitlement and clenched tomfoolery to profound humility.

Kanen Breen’s glittering, fawning Don Basilio was even more deliciously camp than I dared hope, and Warwick Fyfe as Dr Bartolo - powdered wig, cravat and all - played to the comic conventions of the stock character even as vocally he invested the role with rare depth. As Marcellina, mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Dark gives one of the most scintillating performances of the night in her tirade against men, an aria often cut from modern-day performances.

This outstanding cast and chorus had responsive and resplendent support throughout from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and American conductor Patrick Summers, whose attention to detail and dynamics laid the foundations for this vibrant reading of Mozart’s masterpiece.