State Opera South Australia. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 16 Nov 2023
First-time main stage director Nicholas Cannon and State Opera South Australia have nailed it! Their production of Mozart’s much-loved (and much performed) opera The Marriage of Figaro is just wonderful. It deserves to be playing to full houses, and especially to anyone who thinks that grand opera is stuffy, elitist, or inaccessible. This production is none of those things. It has everything: fine singing, splendid sets, rib-tickling humour, lovely costuming, terrific lighting, and delightful music played by an orchestra at the top of its game. And, it’s sexy to boot, with just enough ribald humour to keep it all kicking along at a cracking pace.
Cannon has adapted the two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old story to the corridors of the Australian parliament in Canberra, and it is a stroke of creative genius. It smacks of a deep understanding of the thematic material in the story and a knack for knowing what will stand up to modernisation, and what will not.
Too many modernisations of classic operas fail to impress, because not everything is sufficiently well thought out. There is often something that grates, that is anachronistic, or that simply doesn’t work in some way. Indeed, State Opera has on occasions been found wanting in this regard, such as the production of Salome being set in a slaughterhouse, and Otello on the decks of a modern aircraft carrier. Cannon’s modernisation, with the inspired assistance of designer Ailsa Paterson, is as close to perfect as can be. The joy of what they have achieved is quite simply that the themes inherent in Da Ponte’s libretto speak afresh to a modern audience in a convincing and effective way. This production is accessible to all, and that is precisely what Mozart intended, and it was achieved with a largely local team of artists and creatives. This is something that South Australia can be enormously proud of.
The story of Figaro is well known, and it’s not necessary to recount it here. In the title role we have tenor Jeremy Kleeman. He is energetic, personable, acts well and sings even better. We don’t really get to see whether he can dance, but if he can, then it’s safe to say he’s a ‘triple threat’, but he’s not alone. This production has an embarrassment of riches with many fine singers and actors gracing the stage. Figaro’s love interest is Susanna, who is played and sung superbly by Jessica Dean. Her Susanna is flighty, quick thinking, witty, and cunning, and her pairing with Kleeman brims over with chemistry. Nicolas Lester plays Count Almaviva and gives him arrogant assuredness as he plays out his misogynistic misconduct (just like some politicians we all love to hate). Lester sang the role particularly well. Petah Cavallaro plays his wife, the Countess, and carefully evokes sympathy from the audience as the betrayed wife. Emily Edmonds was a standout as the mischievous Cherubino, and Pelham Andrews gives another fine performance as Dr Bartolo, as does Mark Oates in the smaller role Basilio (but he is so talented that he makes the role stand out). The principal cast is rounded out with Cherie Boogaart as Marcellina, Lucy Stoddart as Barbarina, Jiacheng Ding as Curzio, and Jessica Mills and Courtney Turner as First and Second Bridesmaid respectively. Jeremy Tatchell was wonderful as Antonio and looked very much like ABC’s Costa Georgiadis!
The State Opera Chorus play various roles including courtiers, hangers-on, reporters, staffers, and the like. Chorus Master Anthony Hunt has again drilled them to near perfection, and they, like the principal cast, move around the stage with purpose, elegance, and precision. (The program does not acknowledge a choreographer, and so one assumes that director Cannon must take the credit for this. His training as an actor clearly pays a dividend to the production!)
Ailsa Paterson’s scenic design is excellent and evokes the modern grandeur and stature of a parliament. (Some of the painted stonework looked a little less convincing than it might have, but who cares.) Nigel Levings lighting was again superb, and the occasional use of a follow spot was a pleasing addition.
The Adelaide Symphony is conducted by Tobias Ringborg, and he carefully manages the competing tensions of playing too loudly for the soloists, and not loud enough to overcome the occasionally troublesome acoustic of Her Majesty’s. He sets a perfect tempo during the overture and never wavers from it.
This production is so very good in almost every respect. Nicholas Cannon and State Opera South Australia’s The Marriage of Figaro is breezy, unpretentious, and manifestly able to be easily enjoyed by everyone (if the infectious enthusiasm of the opening night audience is anything to go by!). Don’t miss this production – it’s surely the beginning of a new and exciting period for State Opera.
When: 16 to 25 Nov
Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre