Review: The Marriage of Figaro, Opera North, Leeds Grand Theatre, Friday, February 14, 2020

The squeezed upper-class household of Count Almaviva has descended into a state of genteel anarchy.

It is Figaro’s wedding day and the Count’s wily valet is marrying Susanna, personal maid and confidante of Countess Almaviva. Meanwhile, Marcellina, the old housekeeper, has turned up in full bridal regalia to claim Figaro’s hand in marriage since he is unable to repay her loan.

The scene is thus set for general mayhem in this delicious upstairs downstairs comedy; the first of Mozart’s three great operatic collaborations with his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Opera North’s production, directed by Jo Davies, was premiered five years ago in Jeremy Sams’ witty English translation.

Davies sets a cracking pace for an ensemble cast of Opera North favourites. New Zealand bass Phillip Rhodes gives a smooth and dark portrayal of Figaro. Fflur Wyn’s characterisation of Susanna is a delight and so is Heather Lowe in the trouser role of the precocious Cherubino. Maire Flavin’s Countess blends dignity and humanity with a dash of humour.

Quirijn de Lang reprises his strong portrayal of the philandering Count. It is a pity that on this occasion his recitatives were an uneasy mixture of sung and spoken words.

Geoffrey Shovelton as Don Basilio, the fussy music-master; Jeremy Peaker as Antonio the bolshy gardener, and Gaynor Keeble as the formidable Marcellina are, likewise, welcome returnees from 2015.

Keeble and Jonathan Best as her new Dr Bartolo make a great comedy double act. Alexandra Domens sings Barbarina’s exquisite Act Four aria, and Warren Gillespie contributes a neat cameo as Don Curzio, an incense-burning orthodox priest.

Antony Hermus both conducts and plays the harpsichord continuo. The Dutch musician’s pacing and balance made it clear that he gives as much attention to the projection of individual voices within the orchestra as he does to the human voices on stage.

The warm response from a full house was richly deserved.

The Marriage of Figaro continues at Leeds Grand Theatre on February 22, 26 and 29.

Geoffrey Mogridge