Marriage of Figaro review

LIVE OPERA RETURNS, AND IT IS SO EMOTIONAL


THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO
The Hewletts, Cheltenham *****

Six months after being locked out of reviewing, my return to Grub Street brought one of the most emotional artistic experiences I can ever remember.
Hewletts Opera is a newly-formed company of highly-talented young singers, named after the stunning 18th-century house commanding wonderful views across from the top of what seems an interminable hill climbing out of Cheltenham The choice for this initial, one-off performance was Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, and the mouth watered at the thought of the Act Four garden setting taking place in the open-air of these grounds.
We were not disappointed. Night-light torches flickered right from the beginning of this performance, and really came into their own as the sun began to set while matters neared their resolution. All the action proceeded on and around a paved courtyard surrounded by useful flowerbeds, and with a stately stairway for dramatic descents, and the hard surfaces helped the sound carry some distance across the lawns. I was cannily placed immediately facing the performing area, so had no problems of audibility, and could only guess at how much was being picked up further afield in this 80-strong audience.
Maria Jagusz directed with style and wit (safe-distancing and elbow-bumps were neat but never overdone details), Louis Mander conducted with loving enthusiam.
This was perforce an abridged version, with an orchestral reduction rendered by a crisp, masterly string quintet. There were no recitatives, but most of the famous numbers were here (though I personally missed the wonderful Act II finale quartet "Conoscete, signor Figaro").
All members of this tiny cast sang with clarity, wonderful purity of intonation, and exemplary Italian. Some voices in this context were smaller than others, but every contribution, from minor parts upwards, was invaluable.
Peter Edge was the confident personable Figaro, even able to nuance his delivery and dynamics in these conditions. His adversary Count Almaviva came over well in Jack Holton's imposing portrayal, and as the Countess Megan Strachan sang with full tone and great poignancy, her "Dove sono" so communicative in its anguish..
Maria Jagusz made an elegant Marcellina, by no means the stereotypical old bag we usually see, and April Perrott was a charmingly gauche and slyly acted Cherubino.
And so we come to Susanna, at the centre of all these intrigues going on this maddest of days. Florence Cain was simply enchanting, with a stage-presence and range of facial expression which must have registered right across these gardens, and vocal limpidness which makes us look forward to more.
The concluding ensemble, culminating in Holton's Count's "Contessa, perdono", was a triumph of emotion. And then we had fireworks, perhaps originally destined for the final moments of this amazing enterprise, but great fun as everyone began their way home. "Corriam tutti" indeed.
Christopher Morley

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