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Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro
Royal Academy Opera – 16 November 2007

Figaro: Teit Kanstrup / George Humphreys
Susanna: Katherine Crotty / Narine Ojakhyan
Bartolo : Ross McInroy
Marcellina: Emma Carrington
Cherubino: Lucie Spickova / Kristen Darragh
Count Almaviva: Christopher Tonkin / Dong Jun Wang
Don Basilio: Richard Rowe
Countess Almaviva: Meeta Raval / Lisa Crusato
Antonio: Hyung Tae Kim
Don Curzio: Christopher Diffey
Barbarina: Jessica Dean
Bridesmaids: Amy Radford, Charlotte Stephenson

Director: John Copley
Conductor – Sir Colin Davis
Sets: Tim Reed
Costumes: Prue Handley
Lighting: Geraint Pughe

In a curious BOGOF sort of offer, in its current run of performances of Le nozze di Figaro, Royal Academy Opera have presented its audiences with two casts for the price of one, as a result of Sir Colin Davis’s busy schedule and the understandable decision of the college to divide his time as equitably as possible between all the singers involved. 

So instead of a production with the double cast roles taken alternate nights, the singers swap over mid-way through the performance.  Thus Acts 1 and 2 were performed with one cast and Acts 3 and 4 with a substantially different one.  To add to the confusion, the two Cherubino’s rotate in a different pattern, singing variously Acts 1 and 3 or Acts 2 and 4.  

With a plot as complicated as this one, I feared it might be over confusing, but my concerns proved unjustified.   John Copley’s incredible eye for detail and his very clear vision of the piece coupled with highly proficient acting from the cast ensured that the plot unfolded with total lucidity, and Prue Handley’s elegant period costumes acted as a further aide memoir.

From the vantage point of a centre aisle seat I had a clear sight line to the conductor, and from time to time tore my eyes from the action on stage to witness his supportive encouragement of singers and instrumentalists and the sort of mastery of a score which comes from long familiarity.  

The guidance provided by these seasoned doyens of the opera world had clearly inspired the students, who sang and acted superbly in a performance that was genuinely funny.  Not to mention each and every one of them is in no way to denigrate their achievement, but I am just going to pick out a few of my personal highlights.

No one could fail to have been both amused and touched by the endearments between George Humphreys’ slender and oh-so-tall Figaro and Narine Ojakhyan’s sweet-voiced diminutive Susanna (pictured).   Both Countesses were excellent, combining aristocratic poise with a display of flesh and blood emotions:  Lisa Crusato’s singing I have heard and enjoyed on a number of occasions – Meeta Raval was a new voice for me and one I shall look out for again.  They were well matched by two authoritative Counts, with Dong Jun Wang taking the vocal honours by a narrow margin. 

The comic roles can be dismissed as providing purely light relief, but in this production the cameos portrayed were very strong and commanded full attention.  I especially admired Emma Carrington’s Marcellina and Christopher Diffey’s Curzio, and was sad that they were deprived (as usual) of their Act 4 arias.     Last in my list are the two bridesmaids, Amy Radford and Charlotte Stephenson, whose voices blended lusciously in their short duet.

I can’t remember when (if ever) I have enjoyed a Figaro more, and I look forward with pleasant anticipation to Monday’s performance under the baton of Anthony Legge, when the cast will about face and sing the other halves of their roles.

Serena Fenwick

Photo credit MARK WHITEHOUSE: George Humphreys & Narine Ojakhyan