The Irish connection to ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ goes right back to its premiere at the Burgtheatre in Vienna on 1st May 1786. The Irish tenor Michael Kelly, who was on friendly terms with the Mozart family performed not one but two roles on that famous night. Don Basilio, a music teacher and Count Almaviva’s confidant and fixer and Don Curzio, a judge also entrusted by the Count to enforce Marcellina’s lawsuit against Figaro.
Famously the great opera challenged contemporary social moeurs around class and sex by presenting them in the guise of humorous satire. Pierre Beaumarchais’ original play had been banned by Louis XVI of France. Napoleon Bonaperte apparently called it’s attacks on the aristocracy ‘the Revolution already put into action’. Beaumarchais revised the text and transferred the action from France to Spain and this version was reluctantly given permission for public performance and is the one Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte based their opera on.
I was surprised to see that the DIT Conservatory were preforming ‘Figaro’ as the opera doesn’t come without its difficulties. Famously convoluted cross plots, disguises & swapping of costumes and a large cast of characters can lead to an audience without some grounding in the plot lines getting completely lost. ‘Figaro’ is also a long opera of four acts taking about three hours to perform (and this is the ‘trimmed’ version performed today!) and of course it is sung in Italian. However the program did come with a extensive synopsis and gave the unwary attendee an idea of the shenanigans to follow.
The music for the performance was performed wonderfully by the DIT Symphony Orchestra, an extensive body of players of obvious talent conducted by Killian Farrell. After a very accomplished rendition of the overture and then the opening bars of ‘Cinque, dieci, venti’, I got the distinct impression that this might not be a run of the mill student production.
The set was a rather simple one of rotating backdrops, light one side with projected motifs for the indoor daytime scenes, dark the other for nighttime. I find over fussy stage sets not to my taste so this rather minimalist approach was appealing and of course gives the performers a cleaner canvas on which to paint their characters and hold the attention of the audience. The costumes were turn of the century and quite a bit of work seemed to have gone into their authenticity. They certainly added a lot to the characterisation and in conjunction with the rather sparse set created a strong visual focal point on the performers.
Kevin Neville was a convincing Figaro, his black valets uniform drawing a contrast with other rather rakishly attired Figaros. His tenor voice was clear and bright and Amy Ni Fhearraigh was a suitably reserved yet somewhat pert Susanna again with a clear ringing tone. The entrance of Daiga Berzina and Rory Dunne as Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo respectively was quite intriguing, one could immediately sense the chemistry and comfort between these two excellent singers and actors. Their lion-taming vignette after Dunne delivers a rousing ‘La Vendetta, oh, la vendetta’ as he plots against Figaro was excellent.
Also starting in Act one and indeed throughout the performance Niamh St John as Cherubino had a very strong stage presence and is a wonderful character actor. Expressive and animated she portrayed the mischievous and love struck Churebino with aplomb. As Figaro taunts Cherubino about ‘his’ imminent dispatch to the army with the stirring aria ‘Non piu andrai’, St John’s acting the part of the rather naive young soldier marching around the stage and saluting to the taunts and jokes was a comic highpoint of the performance, Wonderful.
Early in the performance an off stage problem revealed itself through the rather blurred and somewhat sketchy surtitles. The legibility of the surtitles seemed to improve considerably after the intermission although there were still passages without titling and their positioning off to the right of the stage was visually inconvenient especially for those who may not have been familiar with the opera.
Conleth Stanley accounted for himself well as Count Almaviva. He has a strong voice and a good stage presence and his interpretation of the Count had just the right mix of aloofness, vengefulness, and a touch of cruelty, while as the Contessa, Muireann Mulroney, was wonderfully reserved and melancholic delivering her anguished cavatina and aria ‘Porgi Amor’ and ‘Dove Sono’ beautifully.
The chorus were a joy to listen to and looked very natural on stage, not at all giving the impression of being ushered on and off when required. Of course ‘Figaro’ features some amazing choruses and these were delivered excellently.
Act four is the one where confusion reigns onstage and possibly confusing for the uninformed viewer as at various stages the Countess, Suzanna and Cherubino are all in disguise and hiding their identity. The crossing plot lines in Act four are infamously convoluted.
Overall this was an excellently staged and thoroughly enjoyable performance notwithstanding its complexity. This was achieved with excellent musicianship, singing and acting. For opera lovers who are all too often dismayed by stories of companies closing, falling attendances and an ageing fanbase, DIT Conservatory’s production was joyous, uplifting, entertaining and very professional.