Thursday, 19 July 2012

Opera Review: 20 July

A jaunty score coupled with innovative staging and stellar directing lifts this opera to new heights

Written by Tim Walker


Culture-Opera-July20-03-Tim-Walker-176Not content with being the single most important figure working in the world of theatre today, Michael Grandage is establishing a sideline for himself as a director of opera. After making his debut with a spirited rendition of Billy Budd two years ago, he now consolidates his position with a joyous Le Nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne.

Four years in pre-production, it naturally has all of the hallmarks of the former artistic director of the Donmar theatre: seductive good looks, flair and cast members who look comfortable in their skins.

In the opening scene, theatre designer Christopher Oram's magnificent set locates the action outside Seville on the Almaviva estate with the local peasants in the traditional garb they have worn for centuries. It lulls the audience into thinking it is going to be a period piece, but then on roars the Count and Countess in an Austin-Healey sports car that clearly dates from the 1960s.

The set design is luscious in its period detail and feel: the Moorish architecture looks straight out of the Alcázar, while the cast's platform heels and kaftans are pure Austin Powers. Touches of this sort may be a little populist for some sensibilities, but on the opening night the traditionalists in black tie clapped along with the younger punters. This must have delighted Grandage, who, preoccupied now with his newly formed theatre company, clearly sees it as his mission in life to incite the younger generation to storm all of our great cultural citadels.

The translations on the screen at Glyndebourne are similarly accessible – the phrase 'randy sod' must be a first for this venue – but the conductor Robin Ticciati and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment prove every bit as mischievous with the jaunty score.


Audun Iversen's Count has a splendidly Dick Dastardlyish air about him, and Vito Priante's Figaro is a gloriously seditious confection. Ann Murray, Andrew Shore and Alan Oke provide assured support as, respectively, Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio.

It ends on a high, with the members of the cast joining together in the sort of dance routine for Figaro's marriage celebration that is more usually associated with the close of play at Shakespeare's Globe. On a scale of one to 10 in terms of morale, I was a pretty average five before I took my seat. I have been at a steady eight ever since. God be praised for Grandage.

I wouldn't for one moment suggest that he should give up his day job – the West End needs him too much – but Glyndebourne would certainly appear to be a natural second home for him.

Glyndebourne Festival, Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 5UU, runs until 22 August 2012: 01273-813813, www.glyndebourne.com

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