McVicar’s production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

For the production’s sixth revival on 29 June 2019, Thomas Guthrie was the
revival director with a strong cast led by Sir John Eliot Gardiner in the
pit. Christian Gerhaher was Figaro with JoÈlle Harvey as Susanna, Julia
Kleiter as Countess Almaviva, Sir Simon Keenlyside as Count Almaviva and
counter-tenor Kangmin Justin Kim as Cherubino. There were a number of
notable debuts, Christan Gerhaher’s role debut as Figaro, Julia Kleiter and
Kangmin Justin Kim’s Royal Opera House debuts, JoÈlle Harvey’s main stage
Royal Opera House debut plus Diana Montague (singing Marcellina)
celebrating the 40th anniversary of her company debut.

John Eliot Gardiner and the orchestra started things with a lithe and
lively account of the overture, here a counterpoint to the preparations for
the start of ‘la folle journÈe’. Throughout Gardiner kept the piece
flowing, the fast was fast without being driven and the slower speeds were
well calibrated to the lighter voices in the cast. Gardiner seemed to be
urging us not to over dwell on the score’s plums but on the wider drama.
Gardiner has great expertise with modern instrument orchestras, and long
gone are the days when the Royal Opera House orchestra fought with period
performance specialists, so this was an intelligently styled evening.

Making his role debut surprisingly late in his career, Christian Gerhaher
proved a wonderfully characterful Figaro. He brought a lieder singer’s
responsiveness to the detail of the role, the way Figaro’s public and
private personae flashed before our eyes (the delineation of the public and
the private is one of the production’s strengths), the intense seriousness
the hints of the role’s politics, the sense of great glee and sheer joy in
his relationship with JoÈlle Harvey’s Susanna.

Harvey was a poised and stylish Susanna, delightfully light voiced and very
characterful. There was a lovely detail in her relationship with Christian
Gerhaher’s Figaro, and immense sympathy in her relationship with Kleiter’s
Countess, but were always aware of public and private, master and servant.
The way she fined her voice right down for her Act Four serenade was
completely magical.

Julia Kleiter is a lyric soprano moving into jugend-dramatisch roles (Eva
in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and the Marschallin in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier) and she brought a nice depth of tone and
flexibility to the countess’ arias, there was a lightness of touch but
moments of intensity too. This was a very serious and dignified Countess,
strong in her relationship with Simon Keenlyside’s Count, yet alive to
moments of humour with Harvey’s Susanna.

Simon Keenlyside’s Count was something of a stickler, yet taking his own
desires for granted, giving rise to anger when frustrated, rather than
being a natural bully. There was something comic and sympathetic about the
way his obsessiveness led him to be constantly frustrated.

Counter-tenor Kangmin Justin Kim brought a slim, elegant and lithe-toned
voice to Cherubino (a role he has sung for Theater Heidelberg in
Baden-W¸rttemberg, Germany). His Cherubino was an engaging naif, yet having
an adult man playing this teenager also re-focused the role somewhat, and
there was a charmingly fey fecklessness to Kim’s portrayal. I enjoyed the
elegance of his performance, but sometimes wanted a greater expressive
amplitude in the upper register.

As Barbarina, Yaritza VÈliz sang her Act 4 aria expressively, but did not
fully characterise the remainder of the role. The smaller roles were all
strongly and characterfully taken. Maurizio Muraro was a pompous and
self-important Bartolo who made his Act 1 aria fare more than just bluster,
with Diana Montague as a warm and complex Marcellina with a spitfire
temperament; the fight between her and Harvey’s Susanna in Act 1 was a
delight. Jean-Paul FouchÈcourt was a stylish Don Basilio, a lovely comic
performance. Jeremy White made the most of Antonio whilst Alasdair Elliott
had the small but important role of Don Curzio. Rebecca Hardwick and
Angharad Rowlands were the bashful bridesmaids in Act 3.

Continuo was provided by James Hendry (fortepiano) and Christopher
Vanderspar (cello), and the recitatives zipped along with the requisite
pace and drama.

Under Thomas Guthrie’s lively eye the production is in fine health, with
lots of crisp detail. I did wonder whether some of the humour has got a
little broader, but one of the strengths of this production is that the
background detail never pulls focus, you always know where the centre of
attention is.

Robert Hugill

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro

Figaro – Christian Gerhaher, Susanna – JoÈlle Harvey, Count Almaviva –
Simon Keenlyside, Countess Almaviva – Julia Kleiter, Cherubino – Kangmin
Justin Kim, Bartolo – Maurizio Muraro, Marcellina – Diana Montague, Don
Basilio – Jean-Paul FouchÈcourt, Antonio – Jeremy White, Don Curzio –
Alasdair Elliott, Barbarina – Yaritza VÈliz, Bridesmaids – Rebecca Hardwick
& Angharad Rowlands; Director – David McVicar, Revival Director –
Thomas Guthrie, Conductor – John Eliot Gardiner, Designer – Tanya McCallin,
Lighting Designer – Paule Constable, Movement Director – Leah Hausman,
Revival Movement Director – Angelo Smimmo, Orchestra & Chorus of the
Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Saturday 29th June

product_title=Le nozze di Figaro: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
product_by=A review by Robert Hugill
product_id=Above: Joe?lle Harvey as Susanna, Simon Keenlyside as Count

Photo credit: Mark Douet