Opera is a funny thing. To say you enjoy it lends you a cultured, sophisticated air, yet when it comes down to actually sitting through a production that’s often over three hours long, you might regret coming just a little bit. This was not so with the production of The Marriage of Figaro by Opera Warwick, with its striking energy and panache – it did not drag for a second.
The show was full of flair, from the original English translation of the play, adapted to suit a modern parliamentary setting, to the hilarious ticker tape in the short films screened to cover the smooth scene changes between acts. Director Robin Kendall’s attention to detail is clear in this piece of fine entertainment. It tells the story of young Figaro MP (Nick Rivard) and his bride-to-be Susanna (Natasha Agarwal), whose wedding plans are continually thwarted by the lustful Count Almaviva (Florian Panzieri) and the machinations of his assistants, Bartolo (Cole Mclaren-Bailey), Basilio (Rob Pellow) and Marcellina (Charlotte Senior).
The true stars of the show were Panzieri and Ellie Popham as the Count and Countess – their vocal power and intensity were truly showcased in this production.
The emphasis on politics was an invigorating perspective on the opera, and was carefully sustained in the first half. The use of ‘Boris’ as a comic prop was great in the first short film, but his subsequent interruptions seemed to me slightly unnecessary and forced, though he was well received by the audience. Although the sense of modern period was lost slightly after the interval, it was an effective change – the set was stunningly crafted, especially the garden scene in Act IV. However, significant suspension of disbelief was required in this scene for mistaken identities – the Count appeared to look his wife right in the face and still not recognise her. Had the lighting been darker, perhaps, this would have been more convincing.
Rivard and Agarwal gave polished performances, but for me, the true stars of the show were Panzieri and Ellie Popham as the Count and Countess – their vocal power and intensity were truly showcased in this production, and their respective solos in Act III were sincere, heartfelt and moving. Notable performances also came from the comically profane Basilio (his delivery of “fuckity-bye” had me in stitches) and the playful Cherubino (Ellie Sterland). Conductor Chris Blex emanated a captivating, visceral energy that was reflected by his fantastic ensemble, bringing Mozart’s magic beautifully to life, and the interplay between cast and orchestra was both visually and aurally refreshing. Unfortunately the dancers’ occasional appearances onstage were a little unsteady at first, making them seem somewhat incongruous against the refined nature of the rest of the production, but they became more confident as time went on.
The best thing about it was its accessibility – the modern twist brought it bang up to date.
The level of talent encapsulated in Kendall’s show is astounding; with its professional air, it is difficult to believe that it was created by such young and, in some cases, inexperienced students. The best thing about it was its accessibility – the modern twist brought it bang up to date, while maintaining and even enhancing the essential comedic elements that make it such an enduring opera.