Le Nozze Di Figaro
Opera Review by Polly Hope

LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Theatre de la Monnaie. Brussels.

What a most delicious production this is, could be the perfect Figaro? All is a delight. This pretty theatre, small but perfectly formed, all swirls, chandeliers and marble low relief's, albeit in need of a bit of re-gilding and dusting. Size does make a difference in this comedy of characters. With a small stage the audience can be close and facial expressions read. The vast houses of the end of the 19th century are difficult for Mozart's so human works to be performed in.

In this production each and every person is so clearly defined, every gesture has a meaning and the entire performance moves at a great pace. The singers/actors throw themselves about and make the most of the comic situations, but with delicacy and no sense that they are trying to reach the final curtain as fast as possible.

The Figaro of Alex Esposito is a delight, he is sexy, very, athletic, somersaults in desperate moments, but is always winning. The Susanna of Ingela Bohin is perfect. What singing, what verve, what moving sounds in her great arias. And all sung wearing a tight black skirt and white blouse like any housekeeper of today. As for Cherubino, hard not to believe it wasn't being sung by a gangly teenager. Sophie Murilley just is a boy. And all the way through. She sings like a youth as well, though the debagging behind a dwarf screen with all the males of the cast goggling at her discomfort I did find somewhat unnecessary, a bit too homoerotic for this essentially heterosexual work.

Such delights and such characterization on stage are still unusual. Goodness, opera is so fine these days, just standing in the middle of the stage belting out numbers simply wont do. Modern audiences aren't all canary fanciers; they demand proper shows.

The Countessa of Andrea Rost was a bit wobbly in a couple of her arias, but I saw the premiere and her acting was so just right that it isn't fair to complain, possibly first night nerves. Everyone was convincing. Even the frumpy chorus of lassies dressed in begotten finery was perfect. The clothes were great, they were not costumes, they were real clothes. Bits of all times chucked together as though they had been pulled that minute out of a dressing up box, but put together with loving care.

This is another Christof Loy bit of directing from some years ago but completely re-staged by Dagmar Pischel, who, I gather, has more or less re=devised the entire work. She has done well. It is a long opera and there was not a second of boredom, well except the last scene, more of which anon.

As for the music under the baton of Jeremie Rhorer, goodness, so delicious that tinkles ran down my spine. He kept the pace up from the first bar of the overture, but nothing felt hurried. Every accent so clear and precise; it seemed there were moments of this well known score that I had never heard before. Most especially the forte piano, which, throughout, accompanied all the recitatives. Somehow I have never been aware of the starring role of a forte piano in any other production of Figaro. Who was playing it? I know not as he/she was hidden in the orchestra pit and unnamed in the programme.

All the action takes place on a room in a country house, rather than in a vast palazzo groaning with staff. This makes so much sense. Albeit Act 1 happens when the room is being used for drying laundry. Of course great fun can be had dodging behind hanging bed linen, socks and voluminous knickers, but it has been used a lot. First time I saw laundry used for comic effect was I think a Zeferelli production of Falstaff eons ago at Covent Garden. Still old jokes are often the best so all is forgiven and Herbert Muraurer, the designer, is so skilled I forgive him almost everything.

Except he last act, supposedly taking place in a wood where everyone is lost and keeps bumping into the wrong person. Whatever is done with this scene is always a muddle. Probably Mozart's fault, but it didn't make sense taking place in a room in a house with just the lights lowered. It could at least have been turned into a conservatory.

All in all well worth the train journey, so if you are bumbling around Belgium this summer don't miss this Figaro. It really is a must.

Polly Hope