THE music of Mozart, the grounds of the Wormsley Estate and a faithful re-creation of John Cox’s famous Garsington Figaro – what more could you ask for?
This is the sixth Figaro in Garsington’s 29 years, the production first seen in 2005 and reprised for the final season at the original venue in 2010. Expectations were high for this first outing of the company favourite in its “new” setting – and they were spectacularly satisfied.
This gimmick-free reading, which allows the story to speak for itself (via witty sur-title translations) and provides a beautiful and versatile setting on which the story can unfold, focuses our concentration on the music. John Cox, assisted by Bruno Ravella (well known to Iford Festival audiences), has assembled a company whose acting abilities match their voices.
Figaro, Count Almaviva’s servant, is about to marry Susanna, the Countess’s maid. But the count, bored with married life, has his eye on the bride, and is offering a hefty dowry in exchange for his traditional, and recently renounced, “droit de siegneur”.
Joshua Bloom’s Figaro and Duncan Rock’s Almaviva – attractive alpha males, testosterone-charged, possessive, jealous and suspicious – plot and scheme, blissfully unaware that their women can outdo them in guile and performance.
Garsington favourite Jennifer France is a perfect Susanna, with newcomer Canadian soprano Kirsten McKinnon a youthful and disappointed countess.
Marta Fontanals-Simmons returns to the company in the role of the amorous adolescent page, Cherubino, twice done up as a woman to escape the Count’s fury. From the toes of his awkward feet to the ardour of his longing, this is a memorable page whose antics are as comic as impassioned.
Janis Kelly is an unusually loveable Marcellina, the old retainer with a guilty secret. Many years ago, when I started my journalistic career, I hated the tendency of older critics to compare performances with those they had seen in what seemed to be the “dark ages.” Now I join them.
In the 1990s, in the unprepossessing setting of Reading Hexagon, Opera Factory brought their touring production of Figaro with Janis Kelly in the role of the Countess. In more than 20 live performances of the opera, and many more on records and CDs, her performance stood out for its extraordinary beauty, vulnerability and depth.
Now she turns to the (usually) old battleaxe role with affection, wit and charm, again entrancing the audience.
Douglas Boyd’s orchestra brings out the nuances of this magical music, and the glass walls allow the audience to glimpse Cherubino crashing through the carnations, and the gardener thundering back into the house.
I can’t imagine a more perfect setting, nor a more beautiful, faithful and entrancing production.
See it if you can. It’s on various nights until 16th July.
Photographs by Mark Douet