It is rare to attend, under any circumstances, a performance of something so complex and intricate as an opera, and come away feeling that every aspect of the show works. But Opera Queensland’s production of Mozart’s masterpiece, Le nozze di Figaro, despite the various restrictions that many of the personnel have had to endure, is simply wonderful in every respect.
The cast is uniformly excellent, both vocally and theatrically. Indeed, it was the way their voices blended with the details of the incredible theatrical intricacy of Mozart’s opera that captivated the audience most. Every singer entered their role in a completely convincing way, making something coherent, credible, and totally believable. And all sang beautifully too.
Jeremy Kleeman’s agile baritone was never compromised by the way Figaro danced through the first three acts, only to be very convincing as the jealous husband in the fourth. Sofia Troncoso’s limpid soprano was even more versatile as the central character Susanna, the maid whose wit, indignation, and compassion saves the day, and who responds immediately to every change in this kaleidoscopic opera. Jose Carbo’s Count negotiated the transitions between sleazy old rich guy, through egotistic self-importance to the final moments when he at last, quite graciously, acknowledges that Susanna, the Countess, and Figaro have shown him up as a hypocrite. Carbo’s massive experience on the operatic stage served not to dim the performances of the otherwise predominantly very young cast, but rather made everyone feel comfortable. (I wanted to see this whole cast in Cosi fan tutte, with Carbo as Don Alfonso). Even the character of the lawyer Don Basilio, in some productions a little cardboard, was given life by the sonorous bass of Jud Arthur, in his cricket sweater. And a cast that can have the heldentenor Bradley Daley, recently returned from singing Siegfried in Germany, in the minor role of Don Basilio is truly star-studded.
It was a pleasure to hear Eva Kong as the Countess sing more purely, as befits Mozart, than I have heard in the past. The Countess often comes across as a bit wet, but Kong took us further into the Countess’ character than I am used to. Among this great cast, however, the singing and acting of Xenia Puskarz Thomas as the page-boy Cherubino stole the show. She is tall, and so portrayed the boy as a gangling adolescent. She conveyed the incoherence of Cherubino’s desires and fears with immense vocal flexibility and also some of the most gorgeous singing of the evening. This was not lost on the first-night audience, who rose above their almost football-crowd enthusiasm in their cheers for her.
The way the director, Patrick Nolan, both allowed the members of the cast the individual freedom to penetrate their roles, and then wove them together seamlessly was nothing short of masterly. And there was a corresponding excellence in the orchestra. Audiences have heard the overture countless times, and orchestras play it again and again, but the care that the conductor, Dane Lam, took over the balance, intonation and phrasing gave this familiar music a champagne sparkle which continued right through the long evening. (There were no cuts in this performance – I had never heard the second dance in the last act before). Crucially, this care for balance was also evident in the vocal ensembles. Like Cosi fan tutte, the first half of Figaro is a virtuosic series of ensembles, not arias, in which characters sing music which reflects their sometimes opposite response to the unfolding situations. These are always various within each trio, quartet, and especially larger ensembles. It is seriously hard to balance these so that every voice can be heard, but Lam not only achieved this consistently, but also ensured that the resulting texture was ravishingly clear.
The superb production spoke for itself, so I could have lived without the large severed head which was on stage throughout the action, and its torso in the final act. These seemed to me a very heavy-handed reference to the part Beaumarchais’ plays played in the French Revolution, and distracted from one of the points of playing this opera in the 21st century. The abuse of male power for sexual purposes, enshrined in the opera in the Droit de seigneur, (the right of the Count to sleep with any of his vassals even on their wedding night), was by no means done away with by the French Revolution, but continues unabated, as we all know, in the corridors of power in our own country to this very day.
Opera Queensland presents
The Marriage of Figaro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Director Patrick Nolan
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC | Cnr Grey and, Melbourne St, South Brisbane QLD
Dates: 15 – 31 July 2021