Fabulous Figaro as Glyndebourne returns to its roots

Antony CraigFri 29th June 2012
Sally Matthews as the Countess in Glyndebourne's new Figaro (photo: Alastair MuiSally Matthews as the Countess in Glyndebourne's new Figaro (photo: Alastair Muir)

Seventh production in 78 years a visual and vocal treat

Glyndebourne has strayed far from its roots in recent years. Last year’s Die Meistersinger, with Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs, was a triumph from first note to last. The house’s Janáček has been widely praised; its Handel sometimes a revelation – and the making of the now-Lady of the Manor, Mrs Gus Christie, née Danielle de Niese, a Cleopatra extraordinaire. Its 2007 staging of Bach’s St Matthew Passion was a rare dud.

But the quintessential Glyndebourne is – and, I think, will always be – Le nozze di Figaro. It was the opera which launched the Glyndebourne story back in 1934 when John Christie created an opera house in his lovely home for his young wife Audrey Mildmay. Mildmay was the Susanna in Carl Ebert’s production, conducted by Fritz Busch, which included Heddle Nash as Don Basilio. And it was the opera which opened the new house in 1994, with a cast including Gerald Finley as Figaro and Renée Fleming as the Countess.

Before this week’s latest production, over its 78 years Glyndebourne had performed Figaro 485 times and Michael Grandage’s latest offering is already its seventh. No doubt there will be many more, because Glyndebourne does Figaro so well – but I do hope this latest incarnation has a decent shelf life, because it’s a smasher, with a wonderful young cast that is typical of Glyndebourne at its best.

The production grows in strength as the evening proceeds, with the staging of the almost incomprehensible last act comedy of mistaken identities in the garden the most effective I can recall.

The cast is strong throughout, and there is so much to thrill to. Lydia Teuscher, Vito Priante and Audun Iversen as Susanna, Figaro and the Count, are all splendid vocally and play their wonderful games with rare gusto. The second act farce has a gathering momentum (and slick timing) that is impeccably judged. As the Countess, Sally Matthews is just perfection, physically and vocally. Her 'Porgi amor' is breathtakingly beautiful and why her philandering husband would want to stray is beyond me. She is a Countess who quite falls for Isabel Leonard’s spunky Cherubino – this as fine a portrayal as I can recall since Teresa Berganza at Covent Garden 49 years ago. Leonard is making her Glyndebourne debut (as is Iversen) and this house has shown once more – as so often in the past – how deft it tends to be at finding the brightest and best of the stars of the future.

There isn’t a weak link and, for once, even Bartolo and Marcelina are characterised as empathetic flesh and blood, and not caricatured as stereotypical figures of fun. Andrew Shore and Ann Murray are actually a rather likeable couple. Shore’s 'La vendetta' is a little gem.

Robin Ticciati, conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, may be only 28, but he takes over from Vladimir Jurowski as music director of Glyndebourne in 2014. The portents are positive!

Antony Craig

Antony Craig started going to Covent Garden in 1962 and visits and writes about opera around the world – he has probably been to more than 1000 performances at the Royal Opera House alone. He also sings in two choirs.

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