Le nozze de Figaro

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

THERE were many fascinating touches in this “Distilled Opera” presentation of the first of Mozart’s collaborations with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Was the taste of the Count (Oskar McCarthy) for nasally-inhaled stimulants added by director Julia Hollander during the recent confessional excess of the Tory leadership election, one wonders?

The bigger question, though, was about the meaning of that descriptive label, and the whole vexed issue of whether anything is ever really “semi-staged”. This was a production without orchestra or set design, although the presence on either side of the playing area of piano and harpsichord – on which repetiteurs Laura Heikkila and Jose Javier Ucendo Malo alternated – became part of the action as hiding places, and the initial arrival of the keyboard players in frock coats and wigs was surely a joke at the expense of “Candlelit Mozart” heritage concerts, with which this lively modern dress production shared little kinship.

Crucially, however, very little of the opera was lost in this distillation process. As Head of Opera Philip White noted in the programme, the creative company had quickly found that there wasn’t a lot of the work that could be omitted without destroying its structure. Conversely, they showed how little is needed in the way of props and furnishings to make it work, with all the farcical arrivals and hiding in the chamber of the Countess (Charlotte Richardson) in Act One achieved using one smallish armchair. Hollander should be complimented on consistently inventive blocking of the scenes, her ten-strong cast using the whole auditorium with panache, as well as every inch of the stage.

Helped by excellent surtitles on screens on either side of the stage, this was also a very lucid piece of storytelling, from a committed cast whose acting together was as fine as their ensemble singing – and that was often the very best thing of the night, as it should be, their voices combining beautifully and rather better than might often be heard at an end-of-term student show.

It is somewhat unfair therefore to single out particular singers, even if some took a while to reveal their best form, but to my ears Lauren Young’s Cherubino and Robin Horgan’s Don Basilio made the very best of their very different shares of the spotlight.