Choosing to present Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in a modern setting, director Nicholas Cannon says (in his program notes) that its central themes of “classism, sexism and misogyny are just as relevant more than two hundred years later”.
It is harder to follow his notion that Figaro reflects the problems within our own political system, though once pointed out, Ailsa Paterson’s set design can be seen as reflective of Canberra’s architecture, particularly in Act II (despite this being the most traditional of the production’s sets with its high windows and stately central chandeliers).
The opening set, Coburn-influenced floor patterns aside, could be any modern office, complete with dumpster bin, photocopier and filing cabinets – and yet it also contains a fold-down couch central to the first acts actions between Susanna and her husband-to-be, Figaro.
All male members of the cast are dressed in a variety of suits, as does Susanna herself. And yet Mozart and Da Ponte remain intact though their source, Beaumarchais’ play, as well as the libretto, loses the element of danger in its reversals of roles and ensuing subterfuge.
Musically this is a very fine production delivered with a fleetness and chamber orchestra-like clarity by the always dependable Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under conductor Tobias Ringborg, who directs from the fortepiano.
Instrumental lines, particularly Mozart’s often giddy counterpoint, are well balanced throughout and Anthony Hunt’s chorus sings with a true sense of joy.
The cast is well selected, with Susanna delightfully played by Jessica Dean. While she may not be a minx, she displays cunning and keen intelligence, providing the perfect foil for Petah Cavallaro’s Countess. Emily Edmonds is an impish Cherubino. Cherie Boogaart’s vampish Marcellina and the plotting Bartolo are perfect.
The strongest of all in terms of stage presence and vocal power are the two principal male protagonists. Nicholas Lester is excellent as the continually scheming Count Almaviva, who never lets is his sense of position and elegance slide, while taking advantage of the old fashioned droit de seigneur with his female charges. Jeremy Kleeman’s Figaro, the Count’s aide and underling, is quick witted and cunning.
Overall, the presentation pulsates with life and joie de vivre. There is a youthful playfulness to this production with its well balanced and enthusiastic cast and musicians.
The only thing which it ay lacks is a sense of subversion, wherein the likes of Figaro, Cherubino and Susanna are seen to be dismantling the privileges of an almost feudal system – just as the French Revolution would a few years after Mozart delivered his controversial setting of what was an equally controversial play.
State Opera South Australia presents The Marriage of Figaro at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide until 25 November.