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28 Sep 2012
Marriage of Figaro at the BBC Proms
Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s visit to the Proms has become a much anticipated annual event. This year on 28 August, they brought Michael Grandage’s new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Robin Ticciati, who takes over as musical director at Glyndebourne in 2014.
In Michael Grandage’s original production at Glyndebourne, there was a raised acting area behind the orchestra, with cast and chorus sitting in semi darkness behind this, whilst not performing. In theis BBC Proms performance (Prom 60), there was no set as such, just rudimentary door frames for entrances and exits.
There were no surprises about the version we heard, the traditional secondary arias were cut to ensure that the drama flowed. And flow it did. The dramatic and farcical elements move The opera was given in an abbreviated staging by Ian Rutherford based on efficiently and swiftly. Humorously too of course, though the boisterousness in act two got dangerously close to real farce. It was part of the way through act two that I thought, who are these people? And basically, the production didn’t really tell me.
Grandage and his designer Christopher Oram had move the action to the 1960’s. Oram’s costumes were all pitch-perfect with velvet suits, liberty print shirts, floaty dresses complete with awful period hairstyles. But this period does not necessarily give a secure dramatic basis for the piece, in fact by rather smudging the hierarchical relationships Grandage rather reduced the drama. In an era of free-love, the relationship of the Count (Audun Iversen) with Figaro (Vito Priante) and Susanna (Lydia Teuscher) was just too friendly. We need to believe that the count almost has the power of life and death over his servants. Without this, he is reduced to a hypocrite in a Whitehall farce.
Perhaps the situation could have been remedied by distinctive, strongly characterised individual performances. But Glyndebourne had assembled a young, enthusiastic cast who work well as an ensemble, conveying Grandage’s intentions, but failed to establish a personal stamp on the characters.
Audun Iversen as the count was personable and promising, but I defy anyone to be imperious when wearing a wig like that and a wine coloured velvet suit. Nor did he exude a particular sexual magnetism, which is surely a necessity. Iversen’s count seemed just too nice, there wasn’t the element of steel in the portrayal, the feeling that he has real power in his fief-dom and enjoys it.
Iversen was, I think, a little too matey with Vito Priante’s Figaro. Priante sang the role well enough but any hint at being revolutionary or subversive was rather nullified by the period. The Marriage of Figaro needs to be a dangerous piece, with real characters trapped in power relationships.
Sally Matthews as the countess was a Celia Birtwell sort of figure, elegant and slightly melancholy. She sang beautifully, "Dove Sono" was ravishing, but did not quite mine the vein of heartbreak at the aria’s heart. This was also noticeable at the end of the opera where the countess’s forgiveness of the count was lovely, but not yet heart-stopping.