The Marriage of Figaro, Royal Opera, review: a fizzy, funny, hugely accomplished revival

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With Anna Netrebko’s withdrawal from performances of Verdi’s Nabucco this month, the Royal Opera has lost one of its new year highlights. But audiences will love this fizzy, funny and hugely accomplished revival of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. To have mounted a show of this sophistication in mid-pandemic is a triumph, and a capacity house relished every twist and turn of the comedy.

David McVicar’s much-praised and much-revived production from 2006 is one of the company’s modern classics. Times have moved on: some of the subtlety and class allusions in the staging are muted, while contemporary developments in sexual politics have made little impact.

There’s nothing to tell us why McVicar sets the opera in an 1830s French château, rather than in Mozart’s 1780s, but the benefits are clear in Tanya McCullin’s wonderful brown and ochre sets, with their massive sunlit windows (typically atmospheric lighting by Paule Constable). The walls move around the stage seamlessly to connect the first two acts and the last two, and allow space for the staff of the house to bustle around, overhearing constantly, knowing everything.

These servants are open-mouthed with hilarity at the goings-on of their masters: they are right behind their colleagues Figaro and Susanna as they cleverly outwit the Count. He is sung vividly by Germán E Alcántara, but he blusters wildly and doesn’t discover any hard depths in the character.

He is easily outmanoeuvred by Riccardo Fassi’s likeable and stubborn Figaro. He verges towards bass rather than baritone, which makes his top Fs a bit of a struggle, whereas Federica Lombardi’s imposing and totally assured Countess soars effortlessly to the top Cs that she takes in the Act II trio. She hides her grief with impassive calm: her two arias are superbly poised, moved along at a flowing pace but losing no passion – an important house debut.

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