Richard Trinder, Editor

A Marriage Of Figaro

Excuse the errant indefinite article; there have been so many Marriages of Figaro that to call any one The marriage seems a little presumptuous. Unbowed by this and the ever present potential for a 3½ hour musical cliche, Opera North has bravely stepped once more onto the scales to be weighed. Figaro is, after all, one of the big ones.

Fflur Wyn as Susanna and Phillip Rhodes as Figaro
Fflur Wyn as Susanna and Phillip Rhodes as Figaro
The original play Marriage of Figaro was written in 1784 by the playwright Pierre Beaumarchais. Nine years earlier he had started the now famous Figaro trilogy with The Barber of Seville and ending with 'Marriage', all based around a lovable and enterprising character named, simply, Figaro.

Rossini had a splendid go at The Barber of Seville and helpfully included the piece known to the world as Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, ensuring that we never forget the name of our central character. But 30 years earlier Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had established 'Marriage' as one of the most beloved pieces in the opera canon, and firmly established Beaumarchais as a comic genius.

It's all so easy to imagine that humour written over two hundred years ago would be staid; historically interesting and somewhat charming, but ultimately bland; like a cousin from the countryside who means well but can't take the pace of the big city. If that is your view of this opera then think again. This 'Marriage' - in its brilliant translation by Jeremy Sans, with its puns within puns - has all the elements of a Brian Rix bedroom farce, complete with dashing in and out of adjoining rooms and jumping off balconies. Opera North even managed to sneak-in an extremely rude visual gag.

Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva, Heather Lowe as Cherubino and Fflur Wyn as Susanna
Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva, Heather Lowe as Cherubino and Fflur Wyn as Susanna
But an Opera needs more than a comic libretto, it need a cast who fit, well, like a cast.

The man who has it all, the Count Almaviva is quite simply a shoe-in role for Dutch Baritone Quirijan de Lang. He has chocolatey rich tones, is tall in stature and his ability to appear imperious is ideal. Quite delightfully he balances his power and authority with vulnerability. Although Figaro is his servant, the Count fears that he has met his intellectual equal. And when the Count plans on bedding Figaro's new wife on their wedding night - as was his right a few years earlier - then the battle of wits begins.

Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva and Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva
Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva and Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva
Of course, every Count needs a long-suffering Countess and Irish soprano Máire Flavin was called upon to be elegant (the beautiful frocks helped), stoic and, ultimately, redeemed. She makes a splendid pairing with de Lang.

Importantly, Welsh soprano Fflur Wyn, as Figoro's wife-to-be is no shrinking violet herself. Despite having a whole trilogy of plays about him, Figaro's wife is every bit his equal and Wyn brings all her Celtic hwyl to the part. She is cheeky, impudent, strong minded and witty. Beautifully done.

There is one character in 'Marriage' that never seems to me to fit. That's Cherubino, the page. The part is well known as a 'trouser role' - a woman playing a man - and he/she pops up all over that place to add a little sexual tension here and there. You can guess from the name that Cherubino is a delicate little flower, but uncontrollably fond of the ladies. Rising to this challenge Heather Lowe deploys her ballet training to add physical energy to the part, just occasionally having an opportunity to exercise her lovely mezzo-soprano voice.

A good comedy turn livens up an Opera no end and Jeremy Peaker, as the gardener, added down-to-earth humour, was utterly devoid of affectation and landed his opportunity for a spectacularly good joke about a horse (you had to be there).

As to our central character, our mastermind, the man who has a plan for everything - unless his wife decides otherwise - Figaro: New Zealander Phillip Rhodes is bright, lively, witty and has a lovely rich baritone voice. He combines so delightfully with the vivacity of Fflur Wyn that you can almost visualise the tendrils of affection that hold these two personalities together through challenging times.

My conclusion: this is a genuinely witty performance and Opera North has every right to label their production as The Marriage of Figaro. This is indeed the definite article.

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