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Mozart The Marriage of Figaro
English National Opera at London Coliseum, 5 October 2011

"a code of deference and social order at breaking point" Telegraph

Here was a joyous Figaro, though one not lacking in menace. For us it was the best ENO experience in a year and more.

It was well sung in Jeremy Sams' pungent modernised translation, with powerful characterisations on stage, excellently underpinned by Paul Daniels and his Mozartian sized orchestra; it all sounded perfect from near front Circle.

But it was Fiona Shaw's radical rethinking of movement on a large opera house stage and her attention to detail which makes this a production to see and to need to see again. No longer the clichés of precedence at a doorway between Susanna and Marcellina, nor the usual close, static grouping for the great 3rd Act "mother/father" sextet.

Peter McIntosh's revolving set, abstract, adaptable and complicated, designed for Shaw as a circular maze, instantly showed us a place for intrigue to flourish, with the Count a minotaur at its centre. I thought immediately on curtain-up how well it should serve for the dissembling assignations and disguises of the 4th Act; in the event, the staging of that garden scene is the least satisfactory.

One reason to come again will have been the First Night indisposition of the Countess, whose role was however filled, far more than satisfactorily, by Kate Valentine's understudy Elizabeth Llewellyn (winner of the Voice of Black Opera Competition and Sir Willard White Award). There was no serious weakness in the singing & acting of any of the chief characters, and both Count Almaviva and his manservant could be quite frightening.

Before curtain rise deference to power was highlighted by silhouetted images of deep bowing, a theme which persisted in the exaggeratedly deferential behaviour of the house servants onstage, and their casually savage treatment by the Count as they passed his way.

There were telling gestures to note by all the servants, and the management of the chorus in the mock-loyal ceremonies organised by the wily Figaro was exemplary, as little by little the Count was trapped and his hope to reinstate his droit de signeur undermined...

Peter Grahame Woolf

Reviews are mixed as usual ! For one which shares our enthusiasm, see Express

Picture creits: Sarah Lee