Theatre in Wales

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Sparkling 21st Year Production and Worthy Send-Off

At Mid Wales Opera

The Marriage of Figaro- Mid Wales Opera , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , October 9, 2009
At Mid Wales Opera by The Marriage of Figaro- Mid Wales Opera It is now a set part of the rhythm of the year that autumn will bring with it Mid Wales Opera's annual tour. For the last time the slim figure of artistic director and conductor, Keith Darlington, with his snowy hair and invariably black shirt, was to be seen leading his chamber orchestra through a great score. The Puccini’s that Mid Wales Opera have done over the years have been good but the company has always excelled with comedic plots. Wit, imagination and effervescence do not require vast budgets. As long as there are good lead singers that is quite sufficient. I personally have never seen why, say, “Fidelio's” prison suddenly has to produce sixty or seventy prisoners out of nowhere.

The Act One set was the least assured in director Martin Lloyd-Evans' production. There was a comically ludicrous miniature settee, two feet wide and eight inches tall, which robbed the seated characters of all dignity. Against that witty device doors were represented by handles attached to long strips of quivering elastic. Happily, the characterisation was sharp. Kim Sheehan’s lusciously vivacious Susanna was not above kneeing Dean Robinson’s solid Figaro in the groin when thwarted. With a glint in his eye Benjamin Segal's Don Basilio was splendidly posturing in his loud check suit. Wynn Pencarreg's commanding Don Almaviva reached for a swig from a hip flask in times of exasperation. Gaynor Keeble's Marcellina entered into a bowing competition with Susanna. The director may well have had sight of Paul Klee's 1903 etching on the subject.

The second act took off with the stage opened up as a wooden Nordic interior reminiscent of a Vilhelm Hammershoi canvas. Lisa Crosato’s elegant Countess, elegantly sung as well, was lit from below in a large window frame. In Robert Wallbank's lighting design the whole act with its cross-dressing, deceptions, leaping from windows was strikingly lit from below. Finally, for the last act Bridget Kimak’s design presented a novel garden of cabbages and giant rhubarb leaves.

Unusually the Guardian took a somewhat sniffy approach to this production with an accusation of “director’s opera”. The line between a fresh imaginative conception and directorial self-regard and ostentation is a fine one. I thought the transition to the Edwardian period was an apt variation on Beaumarchais’ version of Seville. Likewise the silent mini-scenes accompanying the overture set the tone well.

My musical expert, with a honed ear for every breath, timbre and shading of voice, could not be present. To my unskilled ear the singing was excellent and the nine-part harmony, just before the close, on reconciliation was sublime.

The wise always retire at the top at their game. Like a certain Mr. R.M., currently of Cardiff Bay, who is also retiring Keith Darlington has timed it like a master. “The Marriage of Figaro” is as scintillating and strongly sung as anything that Mid Wales Opera has toured. His appearance at curtain call alongside the ten singers earned an extra bout of applause from his Aberystwyth audience of regulars.

“The Marriage of Figaro” tours Brecon, Newport, Cardigan, Aberdare and English venues until 12th November.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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