The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro

Eternity Opera production
Saturday 5 August 2017, Hannah Playhouse, Wellington

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Opera buffa in four acts
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.
English translation by Ruth and Thomas Martin

DirectorAlex Galvin
Producer: Emma Beale
General Music DirectorSimon Romanos

A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs

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Count Almaviva … Orene Tiai
Countess Almaviva … Kate Lineham
Susanna (Her maid, betrothed to Figaro) Emily Mwila
Figaro (Valet to the Count) Jamie Henare
Cherubino (The Count’s Page) Elisabeth Harris
Dr Bartolo (A Doctor from Seville) Roger Wilson
Marcellina (Bartolo’s Housekeeper) Marian Hawke
Don Basilio/Don Curzio (Music Master) Mark Bobb
Antonio (Gardener) Nino Raphael
Barbarina (Antonio’s Daughter) Shayna Tweed

with Eternity Chorus
and the Eternity Chamber Orchestra, led by Doug Beilman

Assistant Director: Jennifer O’Sullivan
Stage Management: Brynne Tasker-Poland, Joel Rudolph
Repetiteur: Craig Newsome
Lighting Designer: Haami Hawkins
Costumes: Sally Gray, Hannah Truly, Victoria Peploe
Wigs and Makeup: Victoria Hopgood, Wenyuan Yang, Kirsten Hawes
Set: Darryl Ng, James Davenport, Darren Ward, Tiernan Partington
Props: Kirstin Li, Kate Pomeroy
Choreographer: India Loveday

Eternity Opera Company
http://www.eternityopera.co.nz/

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The short story (tldr) :

This production by the Wellington-based Eternity Opera Company set the opera in Seville in the 1780s, but replaced the Italian of the original by a English translation. The orchestra was superb and on stage, everyones character was perfectly cast, dramatically and vocally. A first-rate, excellent production for home-grown Wellington talented musicians. Mozart would be proud!

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The long story:

Le nozze di Figaro  (The Marriage of Figaro) is a favourite for most opera aficionados. The brilliant music, the farcical comedy and the saucy (and political) plot has entertained us for more than 200 hundred years.

This production by the Wellington-based Eternity Opera Company set the opera in Seville in the 1780s, but replaced the Italian of the original by a English translation. English can be so difficult to sing, but this cast had no problem. It made the comedy so accessible and this translation revealed some subtleties and colloquialisms that the audience enjoyed hugely. But it did reveal that Mozart did set the words in a florid style. Often phrases were repeated featuring unimportant words – glorious musically, but dramatically redundant. ***Usually, with the original Italian (if you don’t understand Italian I presume) it doesn’t matter so much!

The set was inventive. The Hannah Playhouse has a small stage and wings. With 20 characters on stage and a conductor and 12 people in the orchestra downstage left, a minimalistic set was a solution. A cream-coloured Spanish-misson facade disguised a door (centrestage right), a window (upstage centre), and a lintel/portrait wall (centrestage left). For Act I a chair was conveniently placed, replaced in Act II by a writing desk and sofa. By Act III and Act IV the action is outside, so the stagehands reversed each of the facades. Again, a ‘different’ door was centrestage right, the outside of a window in upstage centre and a garden wall at centrestage left. The facades were terracotta coloured. Cunning!

But what about the music, the singing, the acting?

From the outset, the orchestra was superb. It consisted of the leaders of a string section, one each of the woodwind – flute, oboe, clarinet (double on bassoon) and bassoon – and two horns. A Spanish guitar contributed most of the recitatives – very effectively.  The Overture set off the opera with a sparkling pace. Simon Romanos simian stance was effusive and exaggerated and given the confines of the set it could be distracting – but his enthusiasm and command of the score was peerless.

What amazed me about the voices and the acting was that everyone character was perfectly cast, dramatically and vocally. Mozart had the facility to blend the operatic voices amazingly well, and the ensembles were particularly splendid – the duos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, even septets! As the saying goes: the sum were much greater than the parts. I specially like the scene with the gardener and the resultant mad-cap ensemble with the Countess, Figaro and Susanna on one side, Dr Bartolo, Marcellina and Don Basilio on the other side  and the Count in the middle and the chorus behind – a priceless comedic and operatic gem.

MarriageKate Lineham as Countess Almaviva was outstanding. Hesitant at first, she gained confidence and became Rosina, the spurned wife – elegant, regal and graceful. Emily Mwila as the mischievous maid Susanna was the ‘whole package’.  Her timing, reactions, movement, body language and gesture were just right. Vocally, the two of them had a incandescent, luminous tonal quality, perfectly in tune and effortless in their whole range.  Their duo dictating the poem (Sull’aria…che soave zeffiretto – “On the breeze… What a gentle little zephyr”) was exemplary, and their solos were excellent – Rosina: Dove sono i bei momenti – “Where are they, the beautiful moments” and Susanna teasing: Deh vieni, non tardar – “Oh come, don’t delay”.

Jamie Henare voice was well-covered and his range was ideal for the dissident servant Figaro. His Non più andrai – “No more gallivanting” in Act I and Act IV aria about the inconstancy of women, Tutto è disposto … “Everything is ready” was particularly fine. But his acting was a little suspect – his timing of reactions and shuffling feet could do with a session with an acting coach. Elizabeth Harris as the lovesick adolescent Cherubino was a marvellous actor – the facial expressions, the seated man-spread, the impetuosity of pubescent youth – impeccable. Her voice was well tutored but the micro-intonation could be wayward and it could be too loud for the venue at times. Count Almaviva, Orene Tiai, struggled with the low notes is his register and a New Zealand twang crept up in his off-side ‘comments’ but he warmed up and his Act III aria (Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro – “You’ve already won the case!”) was very effective.

The comic relief: Roger Wilson, Marian Hawke, Mark Bobb, Nino Raphael  was marvellous. The overreactions, the body language and facial expressions, the timing was exquisite and voices were wonderful. Each had a ‘patter’ aria and the dexterity and precision vocalising the stream of words was a marvel. The scene when we discover Figaro’ true parentage was hilarious.

Shayna Tweed as Barbarina had a small but important role and she carried her part off flawlessly, her voice was even and well produced. The chorus, most of whom are the main voices in the alternate dates for the opera, were full-voiced and resounding. They appeared at the close of each Act, and the finale of the opera was quite thrilling – radiant and majestic.

The direction was excellent with blocking that made the most of the space and umpteen comedy elements. I like the way that the ‘fourth wall’ was in place sometimes and disappeared at other times – inviting the audience to be involved with the thoughts or feeling of the characters.

A first-rate, excellent production for home-grown Wellington talented musicians. Mozart would be proud!

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