Sometimes opera, when done well, can be overwhelmingly tragic leaving the audience emotionally ruined as the curtain drops. This was certainly the case in my first experience of watching La Traviata with Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry at Covent Garden. However, director Anna Bailey has declared Durham Opera Ensemble’s The Marriage of Figaro as, “The ultimate opera bouffe”. This satirical genre manifests itself in The Marriage of Figaro, which Anna describes as, “a comedy about servants…about the people who would have been watching it.” Setting aside The Magic Flute, this is surely one of Mozart’s most well known operas, based on the French playwright Beaumarchais’ 18th century comedy.
It is the morning of Figaro and Susanna’s wedding – two servants in the house of Count Almaviva. Unfortunately the count is making advances on the young Susanna, looking to reinstate the droit du seigneur. This custom, originating from ancient times, gave the master of a servant girl working under his authority to take her virginity before her husband could. With more serious origins, the servants’ scheming to catch their master in the act, and preventing him in the process provide the comedy that makes this opera so enduringly comic.
The production team have chosen bright pastel colours for the costumes in response to the opera’s light-hearted tone, “levity”, being Anna Bailey’s approach. The simplicity of the set also anticipates the comedy of the domestic scenes to ensue.
After long and complicated rehearsals, the orchestra presents the lively score, which is so instantly recognisable, in a production that is sure to appeal. Indeed as I left the dress rehearsal the first notes of that captivating overture predicted the ensuing frivolity. The professionalism and dedication of all involved, as well as the communal effort which struck me as I entered the atmospheric setting of University College’s Great Hall, made me really excited about watching this production.
The Marriage of Figaro runs from Wednesday 15th, and Friday 17th to Sunday 19th of February at 20:00 in Durham Castle’s Great Hall.