Thursday 6 October 2011

The Marriage of Figaro @ ENO

Watching a first night production puts the reviewer in a precarious position.  It's understandable that a few kinks may show that, in time, will be ironed out.  On the other hand, surely a paying audience are entitled to see the same standard of show whichever night they choose?

Though small, the negatives were noticeable and concerned predominantly the music, giving the production a slightly rough-around-the-edges feel.  From the off, the overture was played tentatively and failed to dazzle as it should and in later, more complex moments, conductor Paul Daniel was unable to control orchestra and singers in tempo as tightly as necessary.  There were also moments of tangled words, made all the more noticeable with the surtitles.  This may be nitpicking, but when the production has the potential to sparkle the faults of this rough diamond become clearer.

Mozart's farcical melodrama was directed with aplomb by Fiona Shaw.  The rotating, all-white, minimalist set provided a suitable maze not only for the protagonists' web of intrigue and double-crossing, but for the servants bustling in the background hoi polloi, though at times distracting.  Impressively swift set changes gave the impression of a believable microcosm in which the narrative plays out, sung to a modern and often hilarious libretto.  Roland Wood made a suitably forboding Count, whilst Devon Guthrie's Susanna really hit her stride in her fourth act aria and Kathryn Rudge balanced the pure and the hormonal in her portrayal of Cherubino.  However, the night belonged to Elizabeth Llewellyn, who not only excelled as the melancholic Countess, but did so on short notice after Kate Valentine was unfortunately forced to drop out last-minute through illness.  The mix of 18th century and modern costumes proved a rather odd choice however.

Though some first night jitters stopped the production from soaring, this was a solid performance with a cleverly thought-out design.  But I guess that's what press nights are for, eh?