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ENO The Marriage of Figaro at the London Coliseum | Review

ENO The Marriage of Figaro 2020, Johnathan McCullough, Hanna Hipp, Colin Judson, Louise Alder, © Marc Brenner
ENO The Marriage of Figaro 2020, Johnathan McCullough, Hanna Hipp, Colin Judson, Louise Alder, Credit Marc Brenner

Another smash hit from WAM! Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) the eighteenth-century superstar of classical music who started composing aged 5, was dead by 35 but had by then written over 600 works including four of the greatest operas of all time: The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), Cosi fan tutte (1790) and The Magic Flute (1791). The Marriage of Figaro is a comic masterpiece that delights at every turn. It is Four Weddings and a Funeral without the funeral. A cross between A Bedroom Farce and One Man, Two Guvnors it is entertaining, exhilarating and enchanting.

The set, by Johannes Schutz, is pure genius. A large white cube with four white doors frames the action. If Michael Frayn’s farce Noises Off insisted that life was all about doors and sardines then-director Joe Hill-Gibbins goes one better and demonstrates that real life is all about doors and sex. As one door closes three more open. The set is just perfect for farce and all its ridiculous coincidences, Keystone Cop-like comic capers, hijinks, antics and antic hay in the garden, tomfoolery and Benny Hill like chases, as doors open and close to conceal and reveal human folly and desire. Like Noises Off this production lets us go backstage, as it were, and see people as they really are. We catch them, so to speak, at it. They seem to be at it all the time. The set and doors eliminate the tedious stage business of scene and prop changes. Instead when a door shuts a new scene starts with the opening of another door. IKEA and opera the perfect partnership.

It goes without saying that Mozart’s music is superb, played with verve, vivacity and vigour by the ENO Orchestra conducted with calm authority by Kevin John Edusei. The cast is very strong with many stand-out performances. Colin Judson as the cockney music teacher Don Basilio is both Del Boy and the Artful Dodger rolled into one. In Act Two he pops up as the lawyer Don Curzio and fittingly keeps alive the tradition of playing him with a speech impediment (unable to say ‘money’ he settles for cash) which had been pioneered by the great Irish tenor Michael Kelly who stood his ground and managed to convince Mozart that this ploy would work when the opera opened at the Burgtheater, Vienna in 1st May 1786. Susan Bickley is delightfully comic as the woman of a certain age (Marcellina) who insists that her contract is enforced. Marry me or pay up, is her credo. The appropriately named Hanna Hip is the Hippest Cherubino I’ve ever seen. Her comic dance routine is a show stopper. Johnathan McCullough’s portrayal of the lecherous Count Almaviva reaches heights of comic absurdity in the axe-wielding scene, as his wife the Countess (Elizabeth Watts, wonderful) plays for time. The Count’s servant Figaro is sung with a combination of nonchalance and bewilderment by the impressive Bozidar Smiljanic. Soprano Louise Alder gives a terrific performance as Susanna, the object of the Count’s lust. She is winningly streetwise and nobody’s fool. Not for nothing has Louise been heralded as “the brightest lyric soprano of the younger generation”. A fine actor and a superb singer she is one to watch.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

Mozart’s comedy opera, also known as Le nozze di Figaro, is a whirlwind of mistaken identities and twists and turns, taking place on a single crazy day – the wedding day of Figaro and Susanna.

When their philandering master, Count Almaviva, is determined to bed Susanna before she is wed, Figaro and Susanna conspire with the rejected Countess to outwit him. General mayhem ensues, ending with the Count receiving a lesson in marital fidelity he’ll never forget.

From the first notes of the bustling Overture, Mozart’s psychologically complex story portrays the women as wiser, shrewder and more civilised than the men.

One of the most gifted directors of his generation, Joe Hill-Gibbins makes his main stage debut at ENO alongside conductor Kevin John Edusei.

Creative Team
Kevin John Edusei – Conductor
James Henshaw – Conductor (Apr 14,16,18)
Joe Hill-Gibbins – Director
Johannes Schütz – Set Designer
Astrid Klein – Costume Designer
Matthew Richardson – Lighting Designer
Jenny Ogilvie – Movement Director
Jeremy Sams – Translator

Božidar Smiljanić – Figaro
Louise Alder – Susanna
Johnathan McCullough – Count Almaviva
Elizabeth Watts – Countess
Nardus Williams – Countess (18 April)
Hanna Hipp – Cherubino
Susan Bickley – Marcellina
Yvonne Howard – Marcellina (14, 16 & 18 April)
Andrew Shore – Dr Bartolo
Rowan Pierce – Barbarina
Colin Judson – Don Basilio / Don Curzio
Clive Bayley – Antonio

The Marriage of Figaro
19 Mar – 18 Apr 2020


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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