The Marriage of Figaro
By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Glyndebourne Festival Opera
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Robin Ticciati, conductor
Michael Grandage, director
Katie Bray, mezzo-soprano – Second Bridesmaid
Ellie Laugharne – First Bridesmaid
Vito Priante, bass – Figaro
Lydia Teuscher, soprano – Susanna
Sally Matthews, soprano – Countess Almaviva
Audun Iversen, baritone – Count Almaviva
Andrew Shore, baritone – Bartolo
Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano – Marcellina
Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano – Cherubino
Alan Oke, tenor – Don Basilio
Nicholas Folwell, baritone – Antonio
Colin Judson, tenor – Don Curzio
Sarah Shafer, soprano – Barbarina
Let’s do the twist! The Count sports a Sgt. Pepper mustache and velvet brocade bell bottoms. The Countess is dressed in a caftan that looks like William Morris wallpaper. Cherubino wears a skin-hugging flowery shirt. Yes, Glyndebourne has dared to set The Marriage of Fiagro as a romp through London in the swinging Sixties, and after holding your breath for the first ten minutes, it begins to work because it’s funny — a ridiculous sartorial period marries into the world of Marie Antoinette. Like a drunk uncle at the wedding, the swingers loosen everybody up. Once Countess Almaviva stops feeling sorry for herself and begins to frug — or is it the swim? — infectious absurdity wins the day.
Glyndebourne productions swamp Albert Hall with an overflowing crowd each summer, and they rarely disappoint. This Figaro stands out not just for its comic outlandishness but for the singing. Looking back, I doubt that I’ve ever heard one better sung, from top to bottom, leaving aside a small handful of classic recordings under Giulini and Erich Kleiber, and those are more than fifty years old. Oddly, there is no one in the Glyndebourne cast to single out. Everyone had a secure, engaging voice, excellent pitch, sufficient volume to be heard in the gigantic hall, and best of all, the ability to act with their voices. As a blond pre-Raphaelite Countess, Sally Matthews was the most well known singer and got the biggest ovation (I should also note the long career of the beloved Irish mezzo Ann Murray, who sang an unusually sympathetic Marcellina). The Susannah of Lydia Teuscher was decidedly pregnant (in real life, that is, although the conceit of a bride-to-be with child would have fit the Sixties scheme), yet she sang with remarkable purity and beauty of tone. Teuscher could make it big, I think.
The stage director, Michael Grandage, comes from an illustrious theatre background, including Donmar Warehouse and a Broadway run of Hamlet with Jude Law, itself quite a crowd scene. Perhaps it was he who insisted on young, comely singers who could act, which usually guarantees less emphasis on musical talent. But not here — even young Barbarina could be scouted for the majors. In the pit a period orchestra was used, and for sweet tone and secure intonation there is none better than the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, who make you forget decades of buzzy strings and sour winds when “authentic” (i.e., scrawny and ugly) bands played Mozart. The wunderkind English conductor Robin Ticciati, who was only 24 when he headed up Glyndebourne on Tour, is now head of the whole company five years later. He looks like an eager teenager with a mop of ringlets and a delighted expression that never leaves his face for the duration of the opera.
If this production owes its musical consistency to Ticciati, he will have a great tenure at Glyndebourne. The pacing was lively and sensitive at the same time; his comic timing was a bit broad occasionally, but that suited the antics onstage. I don’t want to give the impression that Figaro had come to the circus with a doobie in hand (although Cherubino does seem to pick up a joint that the Count accidentally drops in the garden before meeting Susannah late at night). Grandage paid attention to the tender moments in the opera, and when the great, heart-swelling moment comes at the end as the Count kneels to beg his wife’s forgiveness, baritone Audun Iversen was up to it. He’d played a vain, prancing fool much of the time, but now love and remorse reformed him — for a while, one suspects.
The Sixties staging might puzzle some, because it exactly reversed Beaumarchais’ play: This time, the servants were not proving themselves wittier and smarter than their masters. Instead, the noble personages can’t wait to get down and do the twist with the hoi poloi. Cherubino even gets his wish to fondle the Countess as they roll on the floor. Removing the class tension erased the revolutionary intent that made Figaro a scandalous sensation in Mozart’s day, but there has been a lot of blue blood under the bridge since then. What with Prince Harry’s bare-ass antics in Las Vegas, there’s no more veneer of nobility to strip away. One might as well laugh it all away and pass a doobie.