By Helena Parker
There were times during The Marriage of Figaro I felt like I was watching a Vermeer painting come to life; and the production design of this work is particularly strong. The opera, based off the popular and scandalous book by Beaumarchais, centres around the upcoming marriage of Figaro and Susanna, both servants at the house of the Count and Countess. The lascivious Count, however, has other plans and seeks to have his way with the witty Susanna before the marriage can take place. Figaro meanwhile, is preoccupied with Marcellina, an aristocratic women who has posed to him an ultimatum; he must either pay the hefty sum of money he owes her, or marry her. So you see, even from the beginning the Marriage of Figaro is fraught with complications and comedic possibilities.
As someone not as well acquainted with Opera as others, The Marriage of Figaro is a thoroughly enjoyable show. Much pleasure can be derived simply from hearing iconic pieces you know well but can never place, played live by an orchestra. As an introduction to opera, this is the best one to start with as it is both light and comedic, although the run time is quite long (around three and a half hours, with one interval) so be prepared.
The most striking aspect of The Marriage of Figaro however is the set. There are four gargantuan set changes and each is lavish and detailed, like nothing I’ve seen in a theatre before. This however is to be expected, with the level of funding and prestige Opera Australia carries. Set designer and costume designer Jenny Tiramani did not let us down and did superb work in mimicking the 18th century interiors. The sets were both naturalistic and historically accurate, but also wildly beautiful - my favourites in particular were the salmon pink room of the Countess and the outdoor pavilion bordered by pines and lit by moonlight which was the final set of the piece. These visually stunning sets really lit up the production - a long opera without something engaging to look at could have made for difficult viewing.
Working very well in conjunction with Tiramani was lighting designer David Finn. Usually lighting is not something one pays very much attention to in a performance, or even in the process of writing a review, but Finn’s lighting was inventive and very evocative. Taking advantage of the fact that the events of the story take place over a single day, Finn lit the piece in a way which mimicked the movements of the sun. The opening scene was full of clean morning light, which then progressed throughout the opera into late afternoon sun coming from the left of the stage, casting the Countess in an graceful shadow. Finally, the end scene was lit by moonlight, which changes in accordance to the movements of a prop moon hanging down stage. Ornate costumes by Tiramani also help to make the Marriage of Figaro a feast for the eyes.
The cast of Figaro also did a superb job not just vocally, but also highlighting the comedy of the opera. Anna Dowsley brought lightness and humour to the role of the flirtatious Cherubino, and displayed a strong physical performance as did all the singers. These moments of humour were gems in the piece and helped the audience tackle such a lengthy opera. Perhaps if director David McVicar helped the singers find the humour in the piece even more, the opera would have been even stronger in this regard. Performances in the Marriage of Figaro were wonderful across the board, and this is an obviously top-notch production. Particularly memorable was Stacey Alleaume as the clever Susanna who was highly engaging to watch and listen to, as was Ekaterina Sadovnikova as the elegant, heartbroken Countess.
The Marriage of Figaro makes for a very engaging night at the Opera. For those wishing to see an opera and unsure where to start, this might be the one for you. I would recommend however, finding a good summary of the story beforehand. The opera is a real comedy of errors, so full of tricks, people cheating on each other and pretending to cheat on each other, that it would be easy to lose your way. I highly recommend The Marriage of Figaro, it really makes for a breathtaking night at the opera.
Image Credit: Prudence Upton
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.