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The Marriage of Figaro (London Coliseum)

Fiona Shaw's hilarious yet deeply considered account of

Mozart's masterpiece returns to English National Opera
By Mark Valencia 17 Oct 2014 London, West End
It's been a fabulous start to autumn at ENO their best season in years. New productions of Otello
and The Girl of the Golden West have been terrific; revivals of Xerxes and now The Marriage of
Figaro have never looked better. Right now you could buy a ticket any night and be guaranteed a
wonderful time and it's been a while since you could say that of the Coliseum.
Fiona Shaw has returned to restage her 2011 Figaro with a marvellous cast of youthful principals. Hers
is one of the wittiest yet most compassionate and human productions of Mozart's masterpiece I can
recall. Rude humour dominates, particularly in the blissful Cherubino scenes (Samantha Price is, forgive
the pun, priceless as the priapic youth whose hormone-popping body constantly gets the better of
him), but there's also a rare sensation throughout the opera that we're watching real people grappling
with their unreal situations.
Baffled as I am by Peter McKintosh's design materials what's with the cheap office plastic? his
versatile revolving set provides Shaw with all the corners and cubby holes she needs for her smart,
fast farce. Factor in a sparkling translation by Jeremy Sams and you're halfway to paradise; add
Mozart's sublime score, superbly executed, and you'll think you've gone to heaven. Well, almost.
There are tiny niggles along the way (Jean Kalman's lighting is too moody for a comedy; Jonathan Best
struggles with Bartolo's buffo patter) but they are insignificant amid so many delights.
Benedict Nelson's Count Almaviva, all floppy hair and fulmination, is given prominence in a production
that seems happy to emasculate most of the male characters, not just the cross-dressing page boy.
This talented baritone, who has a beautiful but not especially penetrating timbre, shows greater
dramatic range than I remember at previous encounters, even when Shaw runs him through a comic
actor's wringer.
His colleagues make for an impressive roll-call too. Sarah-Jane Brandon is a touching Countess,
charming in her two great arias, while Lucy Schaufer presents a hyperactively hilarious Marcellina,
Colin Judson a creepily Mime-like Don Basilio and Ellie Laughrane a feisty Barbarina.
As the eponymous hero, David Stout excels in a role that seems to interest the director slightly less
than some of the characters around him, although she does equip him wish a shaving brush and razor
from time to time. (Figaro used to be a barber, you know.) But above all it is Mary Bevan who shines
like the star she has lately become, lending an inner calm to the quick-thinking Susanna and phrasing
her fourth-act aria with exceptional beauty. Small wonder that she stepped forward to receive a Critics'
Circle Award (for exceptional young talent') at the final curtain.
Jaime Martin conducts a sleek, well-judged account of the score, perhaps a little low on detailed
articulation for some tastes but on its own terms very sensitive, while Fiona Shaw draws on her depth
of experience as an actor to enrich the production at every turn. My personal highlight from a special
evening? Cherubino's gauche moment of self-consciousness before his great act two aria, so
handshakes to Shaw for imagining it and to Samantha Price for delivering it so sweetly. The old eye
leaked a bit, I don't mind saying.