Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.



Rachelle Durkin as Countess Almaviva and Peter Coleman-Wright as Count Almaviva [Photo by Branco Gacia courtesy of Opera Australia]
29 Nov 2010

Le nozze di Figaro, Opera Australia

Neil Armfield’s insightful staging of Le nozze di Figaro is making a welcome return in the lead-up to his direction of the Ring Cycle for the Wagner bi-centenary 2013 (the first complete cycle staged in Melbourne in a century).

W. A. Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro

Count Almaviva: Peter Coleman-Wright; Countess Almaviva: Rachelle Durkin; Susanna: Tiffany Speight; Figaro: Teddy Tahu Rhodes; Cherubino: Sian Pendry; Marcellina: Elizabeth Campbell; Bartolo: Warwick Fyfe; Basilio/Curzio: Kanen Breen; Barbarina: Claire Lyon; Antonio: Clifford Plumpton; Bridesmaids: Katherine Wiles & Margaret Plummer; Director: Neil Armfield; Conductor: Marko Letonja Anthony Legge (November 23 & 27); Scenery & Costume Design: Dale Ferguson. State Theatre, The Arts Centre. November 17, 20, 23, 27, December 2, 9, 11 & 15, 2010.

Above: Rachelle Durkin as Countess Almaviva and Peter Coleman-Wright as Count Almaviva [Photo by Branco Gacia courtesy of Opera Australia]


Armfield’s view of late eighteenth century life in Spain is a dark one. The Almaviva household is held in the same disdain as the then monarch Carlos IV and his dysfunctional family. Goya inspires Dale Ferguson’s costumes; Countess Almaviva in particular, in oyster satin (and thanks to Rachelle Durkin’s supermodel physique and bearing) has the devastating allure of Goya’s beloved Duchess of Alba. Goya even makes an appearance in act three to ‘photograph’ Figaro’s nuptials and, just as he did in his portrait of the Royal Family, captures a household in sexual, social and political turmoil.

Fergusson’s sets feature deliberate anachronisms that, to my eyes, show the contemptible attitude of the Almaviva’s to their staff. A shabby, vinyl reclining armchair dominates act one for Cherubino then the Count to hide behind or in. It’s the sort of out-of-date furniture that would normally be dumped but here is given to the servants to furnish their quarters. For the wedding celebrations the Count provides a battered tea urn and cafeteria crockery!

I prefer a deeper voiced Figaro contrasting the lighter voiced Count as here. With that gruff edge to his voice Teddy Tahu Rhodes exemplifies the peasant against the more refined voice of Peter Coleman-Wright’s aristocrat. In “Se vuol ballare” he embellishes the repeated theme. The result is a little ungainly but in terms of characterisation the growl works splendidly. Even better in “Non più andrai” he directs the second verse to the Count, seated smugly in the recliner chair, and, towering over the trembling Count, warns him his days of philandering are over too and reminding us how revolutionary this opera (and the play it derives from) was feared to be. Armfield fills the opera with insights like these and the principal singers — especially Coleman-Wright, Rhodes, Durkin and Tiffany Speight — integrate them into their performances with easy assurance.

Tall and sleek Durkin’s arms glide naturally into gestures both graceful and, at appropriate times, erotic. When, in act two, the Count tries to force her away from the door to force open the closet where Cherubino hides, he at first violently lays his gloved hands on her only to let them roam over her breasts and body making the sexual connection still existing between the two — despite their current marital problems — alarmingly obvious. Durkin’s response to this rare moment of contact with her faithless husband, melting at his touch, is simultaneously elegant and erotic. Erotic obsession is the basis of this opera after all and this insight into that eroticism created a frisson. The Countess’s attraction to Cherubino was insightfully played up too; the Countess wilting to his act two serenade like Gomez used to when Morticia spoke French.

Speight’s voice grows in size and stature with each appearance. Speight also has charming way with and special claim on Mozartian maids. Sian Pendry bravely displays the rampaging teenage sexuality of Cherubino behaving at times like a spaniel in heat! She neatly negotiates the rapid pace set for “Non so piu” beautifully enunciating the words as do he rest of the cast.

The secondary characters weave through the story with only occasional success. Elizabeth Campbell’s Marcellina is another character caught in a precarious situation. Her frustrations run deeper than mere anxiety over her age. Her favour with Count Almaviva, depends on her winning her case against Figaro. In Campbell’s hands there is that sense Marcellina is greatly relieved when she finds Figaro is her son and she can escape to bourgeoisie security as Bartolo’s wife. When Armfield’s production was first staged Don Basilio’s and Marcellina’s arias were cut. They were restored for the revival in Sydney, although Marcellina’s is excised for this Melbourne season. The tenor Robert Tear specialises in singing Basilio and devotes an entire essay to him in his book Singer Beware offering an illuminating analysis into “the quality of thought which might invest a small part with a fresh interest and, at the same time, probably alter the usual balance of the opera. “If the aria, is cut,” he writes, “the character becomes extremely hard to play simply because the chance of explaining his character to the audience is taken away, all the earlier behaviour seeming merely eccentric or stupid.” Basilio is a man of great intelligence, according to Tear, “more intelligent than anyone else in the Almaviva household” the seemingly bizarre aria “In quelli anni cui dal poco” is making a point about this “musician/thinker’s position in a philistine aristocratic house of the period.” While the near-revolutionary sentiments of Figaro’s are extrovertly apparent in Armfield’s clever twist in “Non più andrai”, there could have been similar possibilities with Basilio’s aria explaining his philosophy and how it helped him survive the “fooleries of class and politics” surrounding him. Conductor Marko Letonja actually highlights the ascending horn passages at the end of Balisio’s aria so they ring out with a confidence worthy of Beethoven and suggest maybe the triumphant Basilio is another plebeian hero. Kanen Breen plays Basilio primarily for laughs and by the time the aria arrives the character has become a rococo incarnation of Kenneth Williams. It’s an assured performance however; the character slithers around with decreasing fear of his betters.

There is a touch of early music practice from the orchestra; fortepiano replacing the usual harpsichord and the strings adopting that occasionally ‘wiry’ sound associated with early music practice. Acts one and two work the best in this current revival, the sexual and social strain made delightfully relevant by director and cast.

Michael Magnusson

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):