The Marriage Of Figaro, Royal Opera House, London

4.00

Hear those hormones rage

An immense room, a tiny maid, mop and bucket at the ready - another day, another three acres of floor to scrub. It's going to be an eventful 24 hours in the Almaviva household, and, to the strains of the busiest overture in the repertoire, the preparations begin here and now. A fleet of servants ferries household supplies back and forth. There's enough food to feed the whole of Seville and already, one can sense, enough intrigue to keep it in gossip for years to come.

David McVicar's brilliantly observed staging doesn't waste a second in setting the scene. Before the overture has run its breathless course, we know exactly what kind of household we've dropped in on. Tanya McCallin's huge sets look lived-in - a little grubby, a little the worse for wear, despite the obsessive scrubbing. These walls have tales to tell and the juiciest of them is about to unfold.

The text and spirit of Mozart and Da Ponte's best opera has rarely been more thoroughly and painstakingly explored. Not a word, not a motivation has been taken for granted. No rattling aimlessly through recitatives impatient for the next big number. Both the Countess's arias, for instance, can and do often feel marooned in glorious isolation - marvellous set-pieces far removed from the ebb and flow of the action. But here they emerged like painful truths from the surrounding fabric.

Dorothea Roschmann's extraordinarily intense account of "Dove sono" was genuinely a moment of self-revelation. The deployment of aching embellishments in the da capo was for once neither cosmetic, nor musicological, but entirely dramatic. Earlier in the same scene we witnessed the Count (the superb Gerald Finley on blistering form) - "unfaithful on principle", as the Countess so perceptively puts it - angrily taking stock of his situation in plain view of all the characters on which his slowly unravelling plot is so dependent. The point being that he has little or no control over the events unfolding around him. The super-naturalism of every action and interaction here speaks volumes for detailed preparation. It's good to see such finely tuned ensemble work in a major international house. For once, it's more than evident where all the rehearsal time has gone.

If I had any criticism of the staging, it would be that the scale of it sometimes threatens to overwhelm the intimacy of this most "domestic" of dramas. McVicar and his designer are so at pains to convey the cultural divide that the grandiosity, the exaggerated gauntness of the sets becomes almost cosmic. But the cast are in the main so strong as not to be undermined. At the centre of things Erwin Schrott's charismatic Figaro is as cocky, confident and showy with his big notes as you could wish. But he must beware of carrying his vividly laddish way with the recitatives too far into the sung text. I wanted to hear a little less speech-song and a little more pure singing.

Miah Persson's deliciously pretty Susanna certainly provided that. Her final-act romance, ravishingly sung, truly revealed the tender-hearted young woman beneath the feisty exterior. And, boy, is she feisty. She slams the door on Figaro seconds into the first scene of the opera and you know that it's only a matter of time before she duffs up Marcellina. That's why Figaro loves her so much. She fights for what she wants. As for the randy Cherubino, Rinat Shaham (such a memorable Carmen at Glyndebourne a couple of seasons back) has him panting at the bit from her breathless "Non so piu" onwards. Again, a wonderfully complete performance. You can almost hear the hormones raging.

And speaking of raging hormones, Antonio Pappano is unstinting with Mozart's. With the pit raised for optimum immediacy, his big-boned and romantic account of the score may not always ring true in terms of style, but it does remind us in this big-birthday year that of all the gifts Mozart gave us, this one may be most precious.

To 25 February (020-7304 4000)

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments