REVIEW WA Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro
by West Australian Opera
Conducted by Antony Walker and Directed by Niel Armfield
21st July 2015


Mozart, check. New production, check. Director of the moment Neil Armfield, check. Success with the last two WA Opera productions of The Rabbits and Madame Butterfly, checkCHECK. Intense EXCITEMENT!!!!!!, yesYEScheckCHECK. And somehow it all amounted to a very bland and forgettable night at the opera. Hmmm.

From the first note to the last the music never took flight and instead of precision and lightness there was a heaviness that dragged the production into a clunky and artless show that verged on vaudeville. It was a stark contrast to the bright and breezy production of the Magic Flute that WA Opera presented last year, and was far from the standard of WA Opera’s productions of the Rabbits and Madame Butterfly that were presented earlier in the year. So what was wrong? well the direction was incredibly weak, the sets and costuming added nothing of interest, and the music was overwhelming disappointing – I wanted a comical, lighthearted Mozart, I wanted the delicacy of refracted light in the sound, I wanted to believe in the human drama that unfolded on stage, and on every count I was given nothing I wanted.

My expectations were high, not only because of the high standard of productions that WA Opera has been presenting, but also because for me this was a personal love – The Marriage of Figaro is my favourite Opera and I wanted to love this production to bits – I wanted every note to sing true to what I wanted, I wanted to be swept up in the drama, and to love every minute of the 4 hour production, but the disappointment I felt from a very average production was much amplified by my higher than the ceiling expectations being so completely unmet, and even now, days after the event, I’m still annoyed that it was not better than it was.

But there were notable performances – The one that made the night at the opera worthwhile was Fiona Campbell who shone as Cherubino for her embodiment of the character was total – her performance of the sweet lovelorne youth was played with the perfect mix of charm and comedy. Her musical styling was the essence of the Mozart sound I craved and her voice effortlessly delivered her sweet tone in perfectly crafted phrases to the audience’s ears. It was a shame that the standard Campbell was singing at made for such a sharp contrast with the standard of other performances. Emma Pearson’s performance of Sussana strugged during the first 3 acts before coming into its own in the 4th – there in Deh vieni, non tardar her voice lifted, and there for a sweet moment she owned the stage completely. James Clayton delivered a decent and comical performance as Figaro, and Samuel Dundas as Count Almaviva was an engaging presence on stage.

But the overall pain of the production was the lack of a coherent vision – it rehashed the typical tropes of opera and relied on slapstick comedy to carry the drama through and added nothing new, nothing fresh, but most unforgivably, nothing real or true. The audience was never truly engaged – often leaving jokes unacknowledged and requiring prompting from the cast to reluctantly participate with laughter – it was painful and a drag. Of course that’s hardly surprising as the characters were mere caricatures that were about as interesting as a Seth MacFarlane creation, and the plot dragged and felt more absurd than bad broadway. When done well the Marriage of Figaro is a perfect blend of wit and situational comedy, with a touch of tragedy to balance the mix, and the characters are human, the plot is heady, and the end a satisfying resolution. This was not a perfect production – at best it was serviceable and for me it was a true disappointment.

I’m hoping that WA Opera’s final production of the year, Faust, will deliver more on every front – I hope that as new Artistic director Brad Cohen will be running the show it will fare better than the current one, and that it will engage the musical and artistic standards we’ve begun to expect and demand from WA Opera.