For their opening night at Norwich’s Theatre Royal, the English Touring Opera delivered a refreshingly clear interpretation of Mozart’s much-loved opera, The Marriage of Figaro. As someone who was relatively new to the world of opera, I found the performance surprisingly accessible, as well as genuinely funny, at points leading me to laugh aloud. Fortunately, I was not alone in my response, as the rest of the audience seemed just as engaged in the performance.
The prime way in which the opera was made accessible was through the translation of Mozart’s original Italian in to English, alongside some useful subtitles. Whilst English may not be typically held alongside Italian in terms of its lyrical phrases and general beauty, the benefits of the translation far outweighed the disadvantages.
Translating from the original Italian was not the only adaptation that the ETO made when bringing this opera in to the twenty-first century. Through their diverse cast, and their modern use of the overture –the cast used the instrumental introduction to get into costume on stage, which may have come across as a bit silly to some and perhaps detracted from the brilliance of one Mozart’s most famous pieces– the ETO broke even more of my preconceived notions about opera. This performance of one of music’s most famous operas truly ended any assumption that the genre is still exclusive to the upper classes.
This particular performance was one in which several individual members of the cast excelled. Due to a last-minute illness, Abigail Kelly played the lead female role of Susanna, the much-harassed fiancé of Figaro. Kelly did not appear to be perturbed by this sudden change, and delivered one of the more stirring performances. The best performance by far, however, was delivered by Katherine Aitken, who played Cherubino. Playing the part of a lascivious young man, whilst maintaining vocal and comedic excellence throughout, she added a vibrancy to the opera that resulted in many of the funniest scenes.
The English Touring Opera’s take on the Marriage of Figaro brings a sense of excitement to a genre that in our generation is often consigned to university music departments. Throughout the performance, there are moments of comedy that would not appear out of place on a modern sitcom, despite being written in the eighteenth century. Whilst some moments, such as Figaro dancing the Macarena, seemed to try a little too hard, Mozart’s original work flourished under the direction of Blanche McIntyre.
Far from a dusty performance of an antiquated classic, the ETO are passionate about what they do. Unfortunately, there were still many empty seats. It is obvious from last night’s performance that Opera as a genre is not rooted in the nineteenth century, but one that is fighting for its place in 2018. I seriously recommend it to anyone.
The Marriage of Figaro was performed at the Norwich Theatre Royal on Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th May.