Tuesday 30 September 2014

OperaUpClose : The Marriage of Figaro ****

Nicolas Dwyer, Rosie Bell and Mary-Jane de Havas
New beginnings are good yet; they come with the sacrifice of saying goodbye to old stomping grounds, which is precisely the case for OperaUpClose who bid adieu after four loyal years in the Kings Head Theatre from January 2015. Its artistic director, Robin Norton-Hale writes kindly, ‘while our reasons for leaving are a desire to keep on trying new things and pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved by small-scale opera, we have no intention of abandoning our roots’ and this is the kind-of legacy that OperaUpClose has imprinted on many of its followers’ minds including mine.

Their productions La Traviata, which transferred to the Soho Theatre, La Boheme and The Elixir of Love are currently thriving on tour to mid-scale theatres in Winchester, Workington and, most recently, the Ravenna Festival in Italy. This leaves, but only, its final production in the steamy back room of the Kings Head Theatre pub, namely Sarah Tipple and the Belgrade Theatre’s production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, which is perhaps a deliberate choice of OperaUpClose; to end its tenure on a cheerful note.

Regarded as ‘sheer perfection’ by Brahms, Mozart’s upbeat and highly lucrative score, in musical versatility and vocal tenacity, is the optimal opera bound to amuse its audiences. The show begins on a high as many will know Mozart’s infamous work, and in this intimate production there is wit and silliness instilled in its young production team, which emanate talent and confidence.

The stage is re-created through its singers who rush to and fro from the stage and corridor whilst the much-loved overture plays ardently in the background. They throw in a rug, a clothes rack of semi- early 17th century costumes and a picture-less frame. The score is reduced to two hours and hones in on the necessary focal plots of the opera, keeping the audiences' attention at bay, until the very end. 

The eight members of its cast, who also have to play other characters, include its multitasking musical director, Alex Beetschen who sings and simultaneously hammers in chords on the piano. A libretto, made available in the programme notes, make it easier for viewers to understand who the singers are playing, even if the opera is sung in English.

Here, the opulence of a fancy palace is put aside in an exchange for a small production that addresses its characters’ emotions and their comedic behaviour to their lovers. The minimalistic stage however is a busy one filled with energy and enthusiastic acting from its singers. 
Nicolas Dwyer, Rosie Bell and Fae Evelyn
Alistair Sutherland is a bright and bubbly baritone as Figaro. Nicolas Dwyer is the, slightly, aggressive and scary Count while Rosie Bell and Fae Evelyn, as Susanna and Countess, keep the stage warm through their touching, infectious and fruity voices. Felicity Buckland as Cherubino is silky and pitchy, at the same time, just like her neurotic and adolescent character with Mary-Jane de Havas doing fairly well too. But I fear with Henry Grant Kerswell, as much as he plays an important part in keeping with the opera buffa theme, his vocal timbre was severely compromised by speaking words rather than singing them. 
With only a piano, clarinet, by the experienced Sabina Heywood, and viola, through Joe Bronstein, there was enough instruments to enjoy the magic of Mozart’s lively opera. The singers, even, take time out to learn a cleverly choreographed court dance for the ample space. 
If there is anything to tweak in this production, which I found entertaining to watch, was its inability to move in and out of the stage with a bit more finesse from its singers. Looking at the show as a whole, it lacked tightness and a finely cut presentation; however I am fully aware that its directors may have wanted Figaro to be conveyed in a harder and rougher way to fit in with the up-close nature of its producers. 
The Marriage of Figaro is showing until 8th November. Click here to access the Kings Head Theatre Pub's site.

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