Figaro reviews

The following is an abridged review by Andrew Godbold of the performance on 29 September and is taken from The Operatalent website.

The production had a very simple staging: free-standing doors were used to good effect to suggest different rooms, and later as arbours in the garden. The lack of walls added greatly to the clarity of action in Act Two, when Cherubino is hidden in the closet (!), and also in the Act Two Finale.

The singing was of a high standard, with some sublime vocal highlights. Edel Shannon’s Susanna was competent and her “Deh, vieni, non tardar” in the Fourth Act was simply stunning. The Figaro of Philip Spendley was beautifully actedPhilip’s Figaro had a definite dark side – a believable character and a believable opponent to the Count. Though at times slightly dry sounding in the recitatives, his singing of “Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi” was outstanding in not only his use of his obviously rich tone, but also superb diction in the faster section, which meant every word could be clearly heard.

It was Maria Callas who advised singers, when faced with a densely orchestrated piece, not to try and cut through with vocal tone, but to spit out the consonants in order to be heard and understood. This is good advice which would be particularly useful to Stefan Holmström, whose Dr. Bartolo, in his Act One aria, was underpowered and lacking the requisite diction to carry across the intention of the aria, where there is a fairly thick woodwind orchestration underscoring rapid patter. I had the feeling that when singers came all the way down-stage they could be better heard than when they were further back behind the proscenium arch, and this may also have had an effect on Stefan’s audibility. He certainly made the most of a delightful moment at the end of the Act Three sextet, when each of the four characters (Susanna, Figaro, Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina) expresses their happiness in ever more ebullient phrases, until Patricia Robertson’s Marcellina impressively burst forth with her phrase sounding more Puccini than Mozart.

There were several absolutely thrilling moments in the opera: parts of the Act One trio with the Count (Tom Lowe), Don Basilio (Nathan Swift) and Susanna had a real sense of high drama. The moment when Susannah rescues Cherubino (Zoe Taylor) from the closet in Act Two was very exciting, the wedding procession in Act Three was simple and spectacular, the moment when Count Almaviva asks for forgiveness in Act Four was goosebump inducing stuff, and the ensuing ensemble was the most beautifully sung I have heard for a long time. I confess to a tear in the eye here!

A paragraph needs to be devoted to the Cherubino of Zoe Taylor. She not only looks the part, but sang with a generous voice. Especially her Act One aria had breathtaking lyric notes soaring out as she scaled a ladder. For me she stole the show - without upstaging the rest of the ensemble.

Roy Goodall in Words and Music November/December 2007

The Marriage of Figaro at Chequer Mead Theatre, East Grinstead, 7 September 2007

.Director Ashley Dean managed to develop an intelligent and sincere performance from his young singers so that this, perhaps the most perfect of operas, became for me a perfect evening of sheer pleasure. The translation by Michael Irwin allowed natural expression and stress of the music and the cast interpreted the plot with feeling, enthusiasm and humour.

Figaro (Paul Sheehan) was excellent in characterisation and articulation, and his Susanna (Helen Massey) managed this tricky role with verve and sparkle. Miranda Westcott as Cherubino was a delight to see and hear, with body movement and characterisation just perfect for the role. I loved Patricia Robertson’s interpretation of Marcellina, while Cheryl Enever as the Countess imbued her role with grace and nobility. Edmund Connolly as the Count Almaviva, although looking rather young for the character, soon convinced me that he was the man who thought he was in charge but was laughed at behind his back by his servants. An excellent production touch.

I was impressed by the clarity of diction of the entire cast and the way in which they managed to forward the story-line with many clever production touches. Very often the last scene, in the blue light of the garden can be confusing. Here this was brilliantly conceived with an enormous bed on stage, making it abundantly clear that this opera is all about sex and desire.

Despite the emphasis on complete characterisation that was carried throughout, Mozart’s music was beautifully sung and played. A particular highlight, Deh vieni from Helen Massey was simply lovely in the true sense of both words.