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Beautifully Judged

MIKE WHEELER makes a final visit
to the Buxton Festival for
Mozart's 'The Marriage of Figaro'


The Classical Opera Company was set up by conductor Ian Page in 1997 with the intention of focussing on Mozart and his contemporaries.

Their first production of The Marriage of Figaro was a winner (seen at Buxton Opera House, Buxton, Derbyshire, UK, 20 July 2007). Sung in Italian, and played in modern dress, it used an elegantly uncluttered set on which the location was changed by the simple expedient of moving the furniture around. Act 4 began at the fag-end of the wedding party; only later did we move into the garden, with the rear panels swung back to reveal potted shrubs, some of which were brought forward as convenient hiding places.

Physically, the production was wonderfully inventive. The cast began appearing during the overture, playing out the plot's basic tensions. Cherubino reached the window from which he jumped in Act 2 by climbing on top of a wardrobe; Antonio made his entrance by the same route in reverse (though you do wonder why he couldn't have just come up the stairs). Susanna and the Countess tried to prompt Figaro about the missing seal on Cherubino's commission using frantic 'Give us a Clue'-style hand gestures.

Musically, it was equally satisfying. Ian Page drew expressive, lively playing from his period-instrument band and the singers, outstanding both individually and as an ensemble, were encouraged to add a degree of ornamentation to their lines, heightening the music's eloquence. There were a number of moments early on when co-ordination between voices and orchestra got slightly out of kilter, but this settled down as the performance proceeded. Marcellina got her Act 4 aria, but Basilio went without his.

Silvia Moi's alert, sympathetic Susanna was more than a match for Markus Schwartz's bluff but somewhat underplayed Figaro. You felt he was going to have a hard time keeping up once they were married. Indeed, he seemed at first to be taking Susanna's revelation about the Count's intentions towards her rather calmly -- 'Se vuol ballare' needed more of a match for the pent-up anger of Ronan Collett's Count. As a younger and less passive Countess than we often see, Anna Leese showed that the Rosina of The Barber of Seville (the first in Beaumarchais' original sequence of plays) had not quite lost all her sparkiness, which made the heartbreak of her two big arias all the more moving. Rebecca Ryan's thoroughly convincing Cherubino had the boy's gangly, hormonally-charged awkwardness off to a tee. As Bartolo, James Gower began as almost as dangerous a character as the Count, his Act 1 vendetta aria full of spite. He also doubled as a splendidly bucolic Antonio. Sally Harrison was a determined but not over-dragonish Marcellina; both she and James Gower softened their characters believably in Act 3. Christopher Lemmings was a not-too-camp Basilio, Betsabée Haas a sparky Barbarina.

Above all it was the beautifully judged pace of the whole performance which worked so well. The steady build-up of tension in the extended Act 2 finale (one of the most brilliantly effective pieces of musical theatre ever composed) was superbly realised. This warm, as well as incisively funny, production thoroughly deserved its full house.

Copyright © 26 July 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK








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