Mozart will have slept well last night, knowing that his 1786 operatic farce, The Marriage Of Figaro, was in safe hands with the State Opera Of South Australia.
Shifting down aesthetically, at least in part, from the exuberant sets and sumptuous lighting of previous productions, this Figaro is more reserved, more nuanced in staging, leaving the outlandish effects to the story, the singing, and the stagecraft.
Drawing inspiration from contemporary politics, director, Nicholas Cannon, has our “villain”, Count Almaviva (Nicholas Lester), portrayed as a conniving, two-faced, lecherous, conservative politician (some of this sentence is surely tautological), plotting his feminine conquest amid office accoutrements ranging from printers to waste bins to a bed in the office (that possibly sails a little close to the wind).
It is this decision that leads to muted tones and conventional set elements for this production, with a little flair when Act 2 reveals a fetching, stately room with high ceilings and large windows. Although, even here, set and costume designer, Ailsa Paterson, has coloured within the lines, opting for the performers to fill the space and make their marks dramatically. A particularly memorable and hysterical ending of Act 2 with frenetic movement and coloured pages being thrust into the air, reminds us that dramatic visuals do not rely on complexities.
But let’s return to the story. In The Marriage Of Figaro, based on the stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro, Figaro (Jeremy Kleeman) and Susanna (Jessica Dean), ultimately succeed in marrying each other despite Count Almaviva plotting to snare Susanna for himself. Add to the mix the Countess (Petah Cavallaro) who suspects her husband’s lecherous intent, while being the subject of amorous interest from young “intern”, Cherubino (Emily Edmonds). Extra complexity is added when Marcellina (Cherie Boogaart) arrives to claim Figaro’s hand in marriage in lieu of him not being able to repay a loan. There are other sub plots, but these, alone, would do Michael Frayn and Alan Ayckbourn proud.
Once again, State Opera has drawn together a cast of principals and chorus of great depth, enabling the audience to suspend disbelief with great abandon and lose itself in the delicious melodies and sublime vocal performances of the show. That said, there are moments that rise above this already high threshold. From a comedic perspective, Cherie Boogaart’s unrestrained and expressive use of her “feminine assets” is a sheer delight to behold. She thrusts herself forward after Figaro and we believe that she is all in on this mission, in one last gallant attempt to “make something” of her life through the union. Taking ribald liberties to the edge of operatic convention, Boogaart harvests a Dress Circle’s worth of raised eyebrows and a Stall’s worth of guffaws as she pursues her goal. Similarly, Jeremy Tatchell as Anotnio, the gardener, hams it up in the key of pantomime, as he fulfills the role of an inconvenient and bumbling truth teller and snitch.
Dressed in office assistant chic, Jessica Dean commands the stage with her singing and stagecraft. At once, she is a Seinfeldian Elaine and a soprano extraordinaire. Of particular note were the wonderful moments when singing with, and being towered over by, Petah Cavallaro. Both sopranos filled the theatre with the joy and power of opera, where height and character and status mattered for naught. Similarly, while Nicolas Lester’s Count commanded the attention one would expect of the high status politician and baritone, Jeremy Kleeman’s Figaro held his own, albeit with extra nuance and detail, enabling him to squirm and wriggle his way out of seeming dead ends; always landing on his feet like an operatic cat being tossed out of the high windows of tall storylines. Indeed, Kleeman’s facial expressions have remained in this reviewer’s memory as a treasured clutch of hilarious souvenirs of a night at the opera.
The utterly enjoyable evening had its tone set from the opening notes, thanks to conductor, Tobias Ringborg, and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, which deftly took custodianship of Mozart’s sublime work for three and a half hours and transformed Her Majesty’s into a symphonic heaven on earth.
Amid the darkness in the world at the moment, this production of The Marriage Of Figaro brings a sweet moment of respite, reminding us that some of the lighter foibles of humankind can be distractingly amusing rather than deadly and severe.
The Marriage Of Figaro, State Opera Of South Australia, at Her Majesty’s, November 16 to November 25, 2023.