The Marriage of Figaro (Assembly Roxy: 1st, 3rd and 4th March ’17)

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I have seen grander productions of The Marriage of Figaro… but not better ones.”

Editorial Rating: : 4 Stars:  Nae Bad

It’s hard not to enjoy Figaro. The tunes are familiar, the plot is a delightful melange of innocent deceit and caprice, and all ends happily. It is true, however, that the subject matter of powerful men demanding sex from young women who are effectively in their thrall has deeply unpleasant contemporary undertones. However the sheer good nature of the plot, the cunning of the women involved in cleverly winding up and trapping the men (aided and abetted by the master of cunning himself, Figaro), allows us to dismiss any politically correct concerns. It’s a lot more female friendly than The Benny Hill Show, and overall is a happy opera that allows us to laugh at the foibles of human nature as we re-attach ourselves to the finer strands of love, forgiveness and commitment. Cosi Fan Tutte it is not.

This production is staged by Edinburgh Studio Opera: a well-established group of University music (and other disciplines) students who team up with musicians starting out on their professional careers, and on the whole is a very successful follow-up to last year’s triumph, Carmen.

It uses a number of quite clever production devices in its storytelling in order to compensate for its stripped back set (a necessity of student productions!) – just clothes hampers and a door. We are led to believe we are watching an opera audition to start with, with cast getting into their costumes on stage. Quite why the chorus is dressed in black with grotesque make up in the manner of a Greek Chorus such as in Bacchae, is harder to understand, but arguably acts as a reminder that at this moment there are three entities in play; us, the audience; such actors as were robed; and the chorus being aspirant players hoping to get in on some of the action (which ultimately they did).

For me, this device works because the opera starts off with just two people on stage and the full company arrives only later on.  For the guise to return just as the interval and finish approach, as the chorus cast off their (over) garments on stage and wheel them off in laundry baskets is .entertaining but puzzling.  Again, perhaps a reminder that we were watching an audition, but could have been more thoroughly explored to make a clearer through-line. Other charming (if a little bizarre) moments are when the chorus also act as a very animated set of trees in the forest scene, a humorous foil to the shenanigans going on between the Count and Cherubino.

The libretto is sung in English with a commendable clarity that engages from the start. There is some fine solo as well as ensemble singing, with Jessica Conway (Rosina) delivering a couple of demanding arias very close together more than capably, while Jonathan Forbes Kennedy’s Count and Timothy Edmunson’s Figaro bring just the right balance of authority and vulnerability to their parts both vocally and with their acting. But for me, the star of the evening without doubt is Sarah Gilford’s Susanna, who not only sings beautifully, but acts with coquettish smiles, joyful humour and a streak of kind cunning. The Count never had a chance.

The production runs until the 4th March and I strongly recommend it for its inventive, professional approach. Ingenuity and creativity, allied to committed singing, acting and orchestral playing soon make one forget the necessarily stripped production. It is a joy from start to finish, and played for laughs which come aplenty. I have seen grander productions of The Marrage of Figaro, but not, in terms of sheer engagement with the work, better ones.  It feels as if the company really are giving it all they have, perhaps in the absence of more luxurious proscenium arch props, which sprinkles it with an extra layer of magic.

 

 

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes(Seen 28 February)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Carmen (Assembly Roxy, 23-27 Feb. ’16)

Anna Keenan and Robert Forrest

Anna Keenan and Robert Forrest

“For such a young company to produce a work of such masterful quality… sometimes you just have to be in awe.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I’ll admit that I’m not exactly an opera buff and I wasn’t particularly familiar with Carmen before entering the theatre last night, so despite the accessibility of the English libretto in this production, there were times during Act 1 when even I wished Bizet et al had been a little less self-indulgent with their lyricism and more efficient with the quill. In saying that, the magnitude of this production never appeared to be too daunting or a stretch too far for the company, who did their level-best to keep the performance alive and engaging throughout. And for me, it is the stars of the show who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that.

Anna Keenan is an absolute delight as Carmen, oozing sexiness and style, with a voice full of richness, warmth and subtlety to portray important changes in tone during the performance. Her stage presence and demeanour command attention and it is difficult not to be drawn to her throughout. Robert Forrest as Don Jose is similarly impressive, demonstrating fantastic strength and vocal and emotional range in a role that is very demanding. And considering both leads are still students, one wonders just what heights they may achieve in the future given the talent both displayed in this performance – remember those names. Monica Toll also dazzled as Micaela with gorgeous tones and depth to her voice, particularly in Micaelea’s Aria which was very moving.

Early on I was worried that this production lacked the fierceness and melodrama required to really sell an opera, as the opening couple of chorus numbers were a little flat and pedestrian. At times the stage seemed very full, with chorus members appearing a little lost when not singing. Yet, with each act the energy seemed to be turned up a notch, so by the rousing What A Bargain! in the final act, my earlier thoughts were dispelled as the pomp and gusto had lifted to breath-taking levels with great characterisation, action and a spine tingling sound.

What I particularly enjoyed about this production was how creatively the space was used. Often the performers would enter or exit through the audience, engaging us in the action, while the orchestra (who were magnificent throughout) were placed within the first few rows, which added to that sense of involvement, rather than traditional separation. And as this production is set at the time of the Spanish Civil War, I feel these touches really helped achieve a sense of comradeship with the chorus in their plight, so the whole show became more of an experience than a spectacle – certainly a commendable feat.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this production before seeing it, but I am certainly more than pleasantly surprised by the experience. For such a young company to produce a work of such masterful quality, with just as much energy and vocal strength at the end of the show as the beginning, sometimes you just have to be in awe. Bravo.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 February)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED