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REVIEW: Marriage of Figaro at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva and 
Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva
Opera North – Marriage of Figaro
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 7 March 2020

Regular visitors to the Theatre Royal, Opera North return with three shows this week including Street Scene and The Turn of the Screw. We had the opportunity to first performance of Mozart’s popular Marriage of Figaro which will be performed again on Saturday.

Phillip Rhodes as Figaro and 
Fflur Wyn as Susanna

The first thing that always strikes you, when attending an opera, as you arrive in the auditorium is that most of the stalls have been removed and replaced by a large live orchestra. However, on this occasion there was also a harpsichord, rather than a keyboard, in the pit to give the tremendous score that extra authenticity. This nice touch was not the only attention to detail that turned this production into something rather special.
Joseph Shovelton as Don Basilio, Alexandra Oomens as Barbarina, 
Phillip Rhodes as Figaro, Fflur Wyn as Susanna and 
Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva with the Chorus of Opera North
This is opera is a comedy which borders on a farce at times. Well observed comedic moments were received with loud laughter from the Theatre Royal audience. I would go as far as to say that this production, which is sung in English, is a good introduction to opera for anyone wanting to dip their toe into to this often-overlooked creative form.

Heather Lowe as Cherubino 
and Fflur Wyn as Susanna

Figaro (Phillip Rhodes) and Susanna (Fflur Wyn) are servants to the Count and Countess Almaviva and they want to get married. Complicating matters is that the Count (Quirijn de Lang) wishes to exercise his droit du seigneur, his right to bed a servant girl on her wedding night, with Figaro's bride-to-be, Susanna. The Count’s wandering eye comes to the attention of the Countess (Máire Flavin) who helps in the plan to frustrate him. Throw in the Count’s plan to use due legal process to force Figaro to marry a much older woman, Marcellina (Gaynor Keeble), and you have a battle of wills.
Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva, 
Heather Lowe as Cherubino and Fflur Wyn as Susanna
Marriage of Figaro is a wonderful marriage of voice story and orchestra. This show works well thanks to the talented performers. Philip Rhodes and Fflur Wyn, as Figaro and Suzanna, have good onstage chemistry as  the central couple. They were comfortable at delivering the exposition as well as their own narrative.  Quirijn de Lang, as the misogynistic Count, also had both comic timing and great storytelling skills. Amongst the many singing highlights was Máire Flavin during act 3 with Dove sono i bei momenti.
Jonathan Best as Doctor Bartolo, Joseph Shovelton 
as Don Basilio, Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva and Gaynor Keeble as Marcellina

Director Jo Davies’s attention to detail also stretches to the relatively minor roles such as Antonio the gardener (Jeremy Peaker). I loved the parochial Yorkshire phrases and broad accent when remonstrating about broken flowerpots and this added to comedy of the situation.
Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva 

We love live music and the orchestra of the Opera North, under Assistant Conductor James Hendry at this performance, were fabulous. As already mentioned – we couldn’t get enough of that harpsichord!
Fflur Wyn as Susanna, Phillip Rhodes as Figaro, 
Gaynor Keeble as Marcellina and 
Jonathan Best as Doctor Bartolo
The set, designed by Leslie Travers, effectively provided the entrances and exits for farce, whilst being pushed around without a pause in the action which was picked off by the lighting design from James Farncombe.
Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva
The only niggle for us was that the action is, at times, across the full width of the stage and hence it sometimes went out of view for those sat on the edge of the seating blocks.
Fflur Wyn as Susanna, Heather Lowe as Cherubino, Jeremy Peaker as Antonio, Alexandra Oomens as Barbarina, Quirijn de Lang as Count Almaviva, Joseph Shovelton as Don Basilio, Máire Flavin as Countess Almaviva, Warren Gillespie as Don Curzio, Jonathan Best as Doctor Bartolo, Gaynor Keeble as Marcellina and Phillip Rhodes as Figaro
Misogyny and feudal right are an undercurrent to the themes, but strong female roles and positive resultant outcome help give it a modern edge. Perhaps only differences with a modern musical are the operatic style of singing and the 3 hour plus interval running time. Having said that, the time flew by. I attended with my teenage son who enjoyed both the live orchestra, singing and the comedy.  This is a very engaging show which we both loved.

Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Robert Workman

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