A FANTASTIC BUZZ AT ENO’S LATEST “MARRIAGE OF FIGARO”!

We review the latest Figaro production at the London Coliseum

Mozart operas at ENO always have fantastic and clever beginnings. If the word “tangential “ applies to probably every ENO production and approach, then last night’s Figaro did not disappoint.

The imagery of a bumble bee trapped inside a harpsichord syncing into the rapid overture, sets the scene, and with a driving orchestra and some standout ensemble and solo performances, especially from Rhian Lois, making her role debut as Susanna, this was a performance that whilst taking just a little time to really get going – absolutely left its audience spellbound. I have always said that, for newcomers to opera, make sure you go to an ENO Mozart performance – then this production (and it was the second time I have seen it) – came alive. You got to go.

So why a difference? You could argue that Figaro of all operas, is the easiest to get along with. Nobody does a bad Figaro. And that misses the point, because yes indeed you can do a boring Figaro. The real trick is to engage with the audience, and this takes subtlety, exquisite direction, timing of humour and of music and dramatic art – all of which this performance has in spades. And it plays to mature opera-goers as well as newbies; my colleagues alongside me were humming along to the melodies, that everyone knows – but we all wanted to hear. The timing particularly of Lucy Crowe, debuting as the Countess, excelled in her “dove sono i bei momenti” aria.

What is there to love?

Sure, the visual complexity of the revolving stage creates the confusion and the rapid movement of players as the drama speeds along, compounds that – but the secret sauce of this production is the speed of the orchestra, that forces the pace.

This in turn forces the key protagonists, particularly in the close ensembles, to be rock solid in timing and harmony – and they belt out their parts. Each player has a point to make. nobody takes any prisoners in this performance but surprisingly, the performance is actually funny! I found myself LOL at the absurdity of it all, and how many times have I seen this opera?

Whilst every singer/performer absolutely does justice to their respective roles – the standout performance that is the glue that links the others – has to be Rhian Lois who has nothing to fear in commanding the big Coliseum stage. Rhian is a Harewood Artist and she reminds me of Mary Bevan in her role in Cosi Fan Tutte.

The ENO bars are closed by the time the performance finished, which is a pity. I took a glass of wine at the adjacent St Martins Hotel hidden gin bar. At times like this, you need to raise your glass.

ENO SCORE ANOTHER HIT!

We look in wonderment at one of ENO’s best productions yet of this classic modern masterpiece.

Alexander Soddy strides into the orchestra pit, waves and encourages his team, and then there is silence for a full five seconds. And then we are off! And its a strange, curious, beginning…

This is redolent of the performance of Wagner’s ”The Mastersingers” a few years earlier; the feeling somehow that this will be the epic performance – when everything goes right. That night, at the end of five hours, all the orchestra hugged each other at the finale. And so it was last night. From whatever opera or music background you come from, this is a performance you have to see.

The secret sauce of this production is the fluidity, sensibility, and sheer forcefulness and continuation of the orchestra – which allows the drama to experiment, to be funny, aggressive, romantic, and convey sincere emotion – without ever losing sight of the fact that essentially, this opera is a dream.

The whole stage is one giant bed. The production relies on the singers/actors/actresses hopping from bed to stage, from awake to asleep, from fantasy to reality. The melodic lines of the music never give away anything you can hum along to, no nice chord progressions and cadences; there is this sense of being suspended somewhere and indeed the third act is precisely that – the three beds suspended in mid air.

And then there is the humour which is less rather than more, – subtle at its best. My standout performance was Eleanor Dennis as Helena, very similar to Mary Bevan some years earlier, also a former Harewood Artist.

But this is to be picky; all of the singing, the characterisation, the direction, was spot on, an integrated whole. Sometimes, particularly at the end of the second act, the drama and clever direction took your breath away

The humour reached its peak at the finale. This was the nearest we got to traditional Shakespeare productions and slapstick humour. It reminded me of the last time I saw this, in Devon – just a couple of years ago.

The difference here – is that the music adds the extra dimension, at times searing, to force the drama.

And then Puck wraps it up… we are back to the original Shakespeare lines…

Was I dreaming? I have no idea. But I am still rubbing my eyes. I can’t believe it.

Friendship is a Wonderful Thing

We look at the English National Opera friendship programme, and ask; why did it take us so long to find this?

As concepts go, – friendship is a valued treasure. Apparently, we only have no more than five “real” friends, in our entire life. The people that put up with us, the people where we feel comfortable. It’s an overused term.

There was this girl I used to know, who wanted me to become her “friend” on Facebook. Why sure – I said – tell you what; “ “give me your number and we can have a chat”. “Oh no”, she said; “I only give my number to my friends”.

You could say that friendship, is hard to find. In that case, the ENO Friends Programme, ticks that box. It takes at least six clicks to even start the process of becoming a Member, and that’s assuming you actually know where to start.

But when you get there – it is the best value for money we have found in London. Nowhere else can you have a face to face chat with a West End star, listen to them talk about their work, and get a glass of wine, for no more than a few quid.

It’s an irony because Opera per se has an image of being elitist and rarefied – and yet here I am sitting in my jeans, with other people who are both elegantly dressed and equally laid-back, and we talk and share experience because we value the opportunity to share that experience. It is part of the ENO philosophy of reaching out across cultural boundaries, but it does so in a non-political way. If you value what it does, then you will take the trouble to find it.

The ENO Friends Programme in essence is a meeting of minds. Who needs Facebook anyway?