Le nozze di Figaro, Gylndebourne, East Sussex
East Neuk Festival, East Neuk, Fife
Figaro and I renew our vows, for one night only
Sunday 08 July 2012
The honey-bee swarm of the opening bars of Le nozze di Figaro is swiftly followed by a sting in Michael Grandage's production, as a 1960s sports car pulls up outside the walls of the Almaviva estate. Here is a Count (Audun Iversen) unlike any other in Glyndebourne's long relationship with this opera, a Cuban-heeled, bell-bottomed, Iberian Marquess of Bath, his Countess (Sally Matthews) a doe-eyed waif in a cloud of blonde curls and a kaftan.
Updated from the cusp of the French Revolution to the soft-focus afterglow of the sexual revolution, this quick-witted staging teases at the social hierarchy depicted by Mozart and Da Ponte. Instead of droit de seigneur, we have sexual harassment. Instead of smelling salts, marijuana. Instead of the Bourbons, the crumbling grip of General Franco. The core remains intact: a plot within a plot within a plot, each designed to thwart the Count's scheme to cuckold his manservant Figaro (Vito Priante) on his wedding night.
On stage and in the pit, where Robin Ticciati delivers a fresh and clear-textured account of the score from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, this is a young, glamorous, lithe production. Exquisitely lit by Paule Constable to suggest the heat of the Spanish sun and the alluring cool of tiled interiors, Christopher Oram's revolving Moorish palace is even more impressive than his last collaboration with Grandage for Glyndebourne. Like their Billy Budd, this is a staging in which everything comes together.
The keynote is young love, that volatile pitch from euphoria to despair expressed in the surging hormones of the teenage Cherubino (an outstanding debut from Isabel Leonard). Slender and floppy-haired, Priante's crestfallen Figaro looks barely older, while Lydia Teuscher's Susanna could pass as the Countess's sister in her Bardot-esque beehive. Even the libidinous cause of their troubles is gauche and uncertain, for Grandage's interest is less in what divides the classes than in their common vulnerabilities.
Tempting as it is to give a long list of amusing or poignant details, I'll settle for a short one: the scalding suspensions from Alan Oke's Basilio in the Act I trio, the kiss snatched from a dazed Figaro by Ann Murray's laughing Marcellina, the conga line that weaves in and out of sight during the midnight denouement in the garden. Figaro is a work I had fallen out of love with, affection dulled by over-exposure. At Glyndebourne, like the chastened Count, I renewed my vows, if only for one balmy night.
Drenched to the skin in Holland Park, chilled to the bone at Garsington, I met my Waterloo at the East Neuk Festival in borrowed wellies. Only five days long, this boutique festival offers events ranging from high-minded chamber music in pristine churches to hallucinatory plainsong in a potato barn, the latest of several unusual venues to be explored by director Svend Brown.
The barn on the Cambo Estate is a working barn, made of corrugated iron and surrounded by mud. But in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's programme of Pärt, Ruggles, Barber, MacMillan and Shostakovich's music for strings and brass, it became an antiphonal memorial to the Dresden bombing, and in Theatre of Voices's programme of chants by Hildegarde of Bingen, a cloister suffused by ecstatic visions of the Holy Land. East Neuk's audience is too discerning to be dazzled by novelty alone. After Llyr Williams's poised, intense reading of Beethoven's last three piano sonatas in Crail Church, there were detailed comparisons between his interpretation and those of Alfred Brendel and Paul Lewis. When the sun shines in Fife, it is glorious indeed.
'Le nozze di Figaro' (01273 815000) to 22 Aug, and at the BBC Proms (0845 401 5040) 28 Aug
London real and imagined is under the spotlight at the 2012 BBC Proms, opening with an all-English programme from the BBC Symphony Orchestra including Elgar’s “Cockaigne” Overture and Coronation Ode (Fri), and an all-star performance of My Fair Lady from the John Wilson Orchestra (Sat), at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on Radio 3 and online.
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