Preview: The Marriage Of Figaro, Coliseum, London

'I'm not just the Count's punchbag'
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The Independent Culture

When the curtain rises on Olivia Fuchs's new production of The Marriage of Figaro, it will also rise on a fresh cast. Lisa Milne will sing the Countess; Victoria Simmonds should make an enchanting Cherubino; and Jonathan Lemalu's Figaro will be sui generis. This golden-toned young New Zealander has been winning increasingly big roles, including Papageno at Glyndebourne, but here he may hit the jackpot.

How does he see the challenge of the role? "Creating clarity. It's not only about maintaining the anger that Figaro is consumed by at the beginning, but about using it dramatically. I don't want to merely deliver a series of party songs - 'Let me stop and sing you a song, then continue with my day' sort of thing. I want to make everything organic from act to act - my Figaro can't just look menacingly at the Count for three-and-a-half hours."

This production, he says, uses the resentment between the Count and Figaro, and gives it a history. "They have been friends of a sort, but one now has a lot less power than the other, and their moments of confrontation are the most important element in their relationship. Meanwhile, of course, my other challenge is to sound nice, while giving all that subtext."

ENO's recent transposition of La Traviata to Ireland egregiously didn't work: Fuchs is keeping her show where it belongs, but switching the action to 1929. And we are intended to think that despite the hostility simmering between master and servant, they may have been comrades-in-arms. This, in Lemalu's view, makes his aria about war all the more convincing. "At least I'm not wearing a ponytail and breeches, which is how Figaro is usually presented. I will have some dignity - I'm not just the Count's punchbag."

Described as "the new Bryn Terfel" when he first shot to fame, Lemalu is now ploughing his own bass-baritone furrow: however he does it, and he will certainly take risks, this will be a Figaro to remember.

In rep from 2 November to 20 February (08701 450 200)

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