ETO’s Gimmicky-less Figaro was a Highly Entertaining Evening

11/06/2018

Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of English Touring Opera / Christopher Stark (conductor), Grand Theatre, Blackpool, 9.6.2018. (MC)

English Touring Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro (c) Jane Hobson

Cast:

Rosina, Countess Almaviva – Nadine Benjamin
Count Almaviva – Dawid Kimberg
Figaro – Ross Ramgobin
Susanna – Abigail Kelly
Cherubino – Katherine Aitken
Marcellina – Gaynor Keeble
Bartolo – Omar Ebrahim
Don Basilio – Andrew Glover
Don Curzio – Stuart Haycock
Antonio – Davon Harrison
Barbarina – Galina Averiva

Production:

Stage director – Blanche McIntyre
Assistant director – Rory Fazan
Designer – Neil Irish
Lighting – Rory Beaton

English Touring Opera has been taking the opera The Marriage of Figaro in Jeremy Sams’s satisfying English translation (should really be titled Figaro’s Wedding) around the country since February and this Grand Theatre, Blackpool production was the final date of the tour. Only three few weeks ago I attended a staging of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at Semperoper, Dresden a staging that despite its much larger budget didn’t convey the same level of enjoyment as this English Touring Opera production.

Stage director Blanche McIntyre and designer Neil Irish came together with a rather simple if clever set. Looking stunning in this Frank Matcham designed Grand Theatre the set an eighteenth-century replica of the inside of a country house, consisted basically of flats coloured light-blue with white painted pillars that were resilient enough to be easily modified for each act. What I did notice was the spare use of stage props and paraphernalia at various times a chaise longue, armchair and to represent the garden a sundial on a mock stone plinth. Irish had chosen colourful costumes of the period namely frock coats and wigs for the men with hooped dress and pouffe styles wigs for the women and there were a few contemporary costumes.

As Figaro, tenor Ross Ramgobin gave an acceptable singing performance although his voice doesn’t project too well. Although giddily offering plenty of enthusiasm and energy to the part in truth I didn’t feel Ramgobin was entirely at home acting the goat. The role of Susanna was neatly portrayed by the engaging Abigail Kelly. Singing with lovely sweet tone and diction Kelly exhibited attractive high notes, well controlled too. Eminently suited to the role Count Almaviva baritone Dawid Kimberg displayed a rich and confident voice and didn’t just rely on height for stage presence. Nadine Benjamin took some time to settle into the role of the Countess Almaviva. She revealed a dark tinged tone to her voice and provided a convincing sense of longing and pathos when required. In the trouser-role Katherine Aitken made a delightful and suitably boyish Cherubino.  Hers was a fairly small voice but there was good clarity and it sounded most attractive. Mezzo-soprano Gaynor Keeble – so well matched to the part of Marcellina – demonstrated both effective singing and stage presence. Omar Ebrahim was made for the role of Bartolo and as Don Basilio Andrew Glover did all that was asked of him. Barbarina has only a minor involvement nevertheless bright toned soprano Galina Averiva did well with her lovely cavatina in the final act. Despite all the fun and frivolity in The Marriage of Figaro – thanks to Da Ponte’s libretto (in this English translation) – there is richness to Mozart’s magnificent music performed so well by the twenty-five strong orchestra resolutely conducted by Christopher Stark. The sung recitatives were accompanied by harpsichord although I couldn’t spot where the player was positioned; surely it can’t have been pre-recorded?

Benefiting from a fine cast Blanche McIntyre and Neil Irish’s gimmicky-less production made for a highly entertaining evening at the opera. With such fine orchestral playing the quality of the music shone through like a beacon.

Michael Cookson

For more about English Touring Opera click here.

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