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Kennet Opera - The Marriage of Figaro

2nd to 4th November 2017

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

An opera of our time

Marriage of Figaro has unexpected modern connotations

Kennet Opera: The Marriage of Figaro, at Arlington Arts, Snelsmore, from Thursday, November 2, to Saturday, November 4

When Kennet Opera chose Mozart's Marriage of Figaro for its autumn production, it could have had no idea how apposite the choice would be, its theme that of a sexual predator using the imbalance between his power and status and that of his wife's maid to try to coerce the young woman into bed.

Here sung in English, Figaro is a masterpiece of opera buffa, Mozart's comedy of manners propelled briskly along by the light, sparkling music and compositional structure. The opera is marked by very strong characterisation, requiring principals with agility of voice and comic ability. Their blend of voices in the ensemble pieces was a highlight, the septet at the end of Act II particularly pleasing, and the final section, We Will Revel All Night, amplified by the voices of the chorus.

Baritone James Corrigan, as the lecherous, arrogant, bullying Count Almaviva, has an expansive, rich, sonorous voice, with good diction and lots of vocal attack. He played the part with relish; an archetypal baddie.

Soprano Camilla Foster-Mitchell was an irresistible Susanna, sharp and sassy, with engaging vocal clarity and colour. She is also a very good actress, with spot-on comic timing. She and Figaro (Shaun Aquilina), with his warm, interpretive baritone and comedic skills, were well-matched.

The besuited Lydia Holmes as Cherubino made the most of her trouser role: animated, androgynous – and youthfully naive.

On the first night, Louise Harrington, as Countess Almaviva, was unwell. She was on stage throughout, however, acting the part but performing only the recitatifs, with the part sung from the pit by Christine Buras. This worked so well that a few minutes into the production one had forgotten the device. Christine Buras's accurate, expressive voice was particularly moving in the aria where the countess sings of having lost her husband's love. The plot, set on one day, is, of course ridiculously convoluted, with disguises, mistaken identities, anonymous letters, a significant hairpin, servants hiding in plain sight and a lot of comings and goings through doors and arbours.

Marcellina (Tamsin Slatter) is revealed to be Figaro's mother, and Bartolo (James Mitchell) his father, but in the end Susanna and Figaro are married, along with his parents. And the opera has a deliriously subversive edge, with the servants far brighter and more capable than their supposed betters.

Opera is a fiendishly taxing, exposed art form and several years ago Kennet Opera made the wise decision to use professional singers alongside members for its full-scale productions. There is thus invariably a disparity in technique, quality of voice and dramatic ability between the professionals and company members, this year greater than in some previous productions. Smartly directed by Stan Pretty, Figaro was costumed in late-Edwardian style by Lili Tuttle. The minimal set, by stage designer Suzanne Thomson, recycled some flats from previous productions (some recognisable from last year's Cenerentola), with props added very effectively when needed.

The nine-piece orchestra, under conductor Benjamin Hamilton, who also played a keyboard programmed to emulate the sound of a harpsichord, did sterling service in the pit, the quality of individual musicianship a pleasure to hear.