Alex Burns (Classicalexburns), April 2018
Opera on Location aims to produce accessible and immersive opera for their audiences, and what better opera to achieve these goals than with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Teamed up with Sheffield Chamber Orchestra, and under the direction of co-founder of the opera company, Gareth Lloyd, this production offered a multifaceted approach to the opera.
Although the plot for The Marriage of Figaro is complicated, the way this company handled its unfolding drama was clear, fluid, and the audience seemed to always know what was happening in each scene. Due to the production being semi-staged, it followed the concept where the props are used as visual cues for the audience. The simple staging and costumes meant that more emphasis was put onto the characters and the exaggerated plot.
The cast, who sung all their songs in English, were exceptional. Particular stand-out performances for me were from Figaro (Tim Bagley), The Countess (Andrea Tweedale), and Cherubino (Victoria Grey). The connection that was made between these professional singers and the orchestra, was an absolute treat for the audience, and brought us closer to the heart of the production. The cast were dedicated, talented and there were no weak links.
Another change that the company made to the opera, was the omission of recitatives. These ended up being spoken word, and this offered a welcome interlude between the singing, where we could catch up with the unfolding story lines. These sections of spoken word also allowed the company to bring out the comedy within the opera, which was most refreshing. I particularly revelled in the breaking of the fourth wall at times, where characters would interact with the orchestra leader, George Kennaway.
The variety of characters that this production had was intriguing. Each character was unique and portrayed like their corresponding stereotypical caricature. The farcical plot of The Marriage of Figaro fitted really well with the ridiculous and hilarious characterisations. I certainly haven’t laughed at an opera as much as this production.
Although the opera is largely a comedic piece, there are some underlying dark themes, including those of sexual harassment. Whilst we are amidst the #Me Too movement, these themes were handled well, and because this was an up-to-date production in English, these themes were not pushed aside. The company were able to make a 232 year old opera relevant today, and that is so important for the preservation of opera in mainstream arts and entertainment.
The ethereal beauty of Mozart’s score was masterfully played by the Sheffield Chamber Orchestra, and this added to the professionalism of the production. Perhaps the issue of volume control should be addressed, as some of the spoken word was hard to hear at points, especially sitting up on the balcony. This is a mere quip, however, as the standard of musicianship was commendable, and a joy to behold.
It was pleasing to see so many different people in attendance at this production, which plays in great favour for the future popularity of Opera on Location. Their aim to bring opera to the people was definitely met through this production.
For me, the biggest downfall was that there was only one performance of it. To all involved, bravo. I am certainly looking forward to their next production.