This Spanish-set comic opera with streaks of melancholy was superbly interpreted by Shaw in 2011 and in this second revival her gift for clear story-telling is undiminished. Figaro can be muddling, with its many entrances and exits, but Shaw's reading is meticulous, even if the very careful story-telling is sometimes at the expense of musical pace.
Peter McKintosh's set, a whirling maze of doorways and landings with bull-baiting projections by Steven Williams, is occasionally distracting. The tightness of the ensemble singing suffers when the singers are scattered between the ever-changing rooms (although the below-stairs scenes are appealing).
On the eve of the wedding of quick-witted servants Figaro and Susanna, their employer, Count Almaviva, regrets giving up his droit de seignur – the privilege of having a first pop at the bride-to-be. But the couple, the neglected Countess, and a bunch of hangers-on bring down the man whose bullying power seems heightened, post-Weinstein.
As Almaviva, there is real menace in the voice and manner of Ashley Riches: we saw something of this when the baritone took the title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni at Opera Holland Park last summer. Here, in another really impressive role debut, when he hisses 'I will kkkkill him', you realise that beneath the tomfoolery, lives hang in the balance. Those many servants depend on this rich hothead for their livelihoods at a time when joblessness equals poverty equals early death. Skulls, butchered meat, the kill from a hunt are dotted between the silks and satins of 18th-century domestic life.
As Figaro, getting his own back, dependable Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans reveals a flair for comedy in the pell-mell Act Two finale that is not obvious at the slightly stolid outset. ENO-raised soprano Rhian Lois makes an engaging role debut as Susanna, although the sometimes over-cluttered set occasionally forces her upstage and nearly out of earshot.
Another ENO Harewood artist, Katie Coventry, is a spirited love-sick boy Cherubino, and magnificent Lucy Crowe overcomes a slight tremor in this distinctively clear-edged voice with passion and dignity. As the opera resolves, more or less happily for all, we catch a glimpse of how a 21st-century Countess would respond to this poisonous home life, and it is a very different outcome...
I happen to prefer my Figaro at breakneck speeds, while Martyn Brabbins conducting the orchestra and chorus of English National Opera takes his time. Matthew Kofi Waldren, who impressed last summer at Opera Holland Park's five-star La Rondine, will conduct on 12 April only, and may do things differently. But this is an excellent Figaro for first-timers and families, with Jeremy Sams's genuinely funny translation, and it shows that ENO really can handle repertoire operas as well as new work.
The Marriage of Figaro is sung in English with English surtitles. The performance on 12 April is signed.
|What||The Marriage of Figaro review , English National Opera|
|Where||English National Opera, London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
29 Mar 18 – 14 Apr 18, six performances; times vary. Running time 3hr 20min
|Price||£12 - £125|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|