At Covent Garden a Competent Figaro Lacks Tension and Sparkle

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro: Soloists, Members of the Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Ivor Bolton (conductor), Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 15.9.2015 (CC)

The Royal Opera  Le Nozze Di Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ?Conductor Ivor Bolton Director David McVicar
Anita Hartig as Susanna, Kate Lindsey as Cherubino and Ellie Dehn as Countess Almaviva – Le nozze di Figaro
Photo by Mark Douet


Figaro: Erwin Schrott
Susanna: Anita Hartig
Bartolo: Carlo Lepore
Marcellina: Ann Murray
Cherubino: Kate Lindsey
Count Almaviva: Stéphane Degout
Don Basilio: Krystian Adam
Countess Almaviv: Ellie Dehn
Antonio: Jeremy White
Don Curzio:Alasdair Elliott
Barbarina: Heather Engebretson


Director: David McVicar
Revival Director: Leah Hausman
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable

It was nteresting to pit this against the Gluck production the night before. The Orphée was, to this reviewer at least, an out-and-out triumph; this Figaro, perhaps less so. Reviewing a previous incarnation of McVicar’s Figaro in May (reviewed here), I found it stimulating and even enervating. Looking forward to the present evening, I also had high hopes for Ivor Bolton’s conducting, but in the event the performance, while perfectly competent, lacked sparkle and glitter. The production, expertly revived here by Leah Hausman, is clever and effective, setting the opera in a chateau in France before the 1830 Bourbon revolution. Scene changes are incredibly tight, and the lighting (Paule Constable) can be absolutely magical; it can also be astonishingly real (the palpably morning light of the opening of the second act, for example). Yet the whole, on this occasion, was unfortunately not more than the sum of its parts.

The problem seemed to be that Bolton appeared too keen to let the tension drop, or more properly droop, at every opportunity. It was good that he played the harpsichord continuo himself, and all credit for the choice of the Bärenreiter edition (aka ‘New Mozart Edition’ Urtext, edited by Ludwig Finscher). But if you cut the sparkle, you cut the piece’s heart, and one becomes all too aware of the opera’s length. The latter portions of the second act were particularly flat-footed, and the dramatic impetus around the unveiling of Cherubino in the third act was all but non-existent. Figaro’s “Se vuol ballare”, delivered with simply beautiful tone by Erwin Schrott (who created the role in the 2006 production premiere), felt rather lacklustre when confronted with an orchestral contribution such as this. This was a shame, as Schrott projected real malice via his voice; his is an assumption of Figaro that has grown through time and is now delivered with a confident naturalness. Romanian soprano Anita Hartig took the part of Susanna, and displayed a most appealing beauty of voice, but it was the boyish demeanour and vocal delivery of American singer Kate Lindsey’s Cherubino that was truly memorable. Lindsey has already taken this role in Aix en Provence and San Francisco, and she clearly relishes it, projecting the breathless excitement of “Non so piu” to perfection, while finding a lovely lyric line coupled with light freshness in “Voi che sapete”.

As the Countess, Ellie Dehn, making her Royal Opera debut, began most impressively with a lovely tone and even lovelier turn of phrase in “Porgi amor”. The very highest part of her voice later revealed itself to be a little uncontrolled, unfortunately; it was in the emotional intensity of her other big number, “Dove sono” (Act 3), that she redeemed herself, including some delicious ornamentation. Her Count, Stéphane Degout, delivered a characterisation that was full of confidence and swagger.

Both the experienced Ann Murray’s Marcellina and Krystian Adam’s Don Basilio oozed character, while Carole Lepore’s Bartolo was properly strong and Alasdair Elliott’s Don Curzio was nicely etched. Jeremy White gave us a sweet Antonio, but one that was not always perfectly in accord with the orchestra. Nearly stealing the show from Schrott, Lindsey and Degout was Heather Engebretson’s most engaging Barbarina, her Act 4 “L’ho perduta” not only lovely but also eminently believable.

There are so many positives here on the vocal side, and the production remains stimulating, but this is one of those performances that in the final analysis just failed to gel.

Colin Clarke

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