Following on from ENO’s modern version of Don
Giovanni is this futuristic production of The Marriage of Figaro.
I say futuristic because of the overwhelming presence of sci-fi gadgetry
that has seemingly walked into this staging, from artificial limbs Terminator
style to spectacles that emit red light. Given the debris on stage –
from used fridges, to dilapidated furnishings, bent wheels with the
spokes hanging off, rusty prams and the such – it seems like a post
apocalyptic world. It struck me as more Pinter than Mozart, more Rocky
Horror Picture Show than Beaumarchais.
The sheer extent of the rubbish on stage poses two
problems: first for the singers who are restricted for movement (and
routinely knock into props inadvertently) and, secondly, for the audience
who spend more time looking at this mess than listening to the opera,
a killer for any work, but particularly this one. Indeed, it is hard
to work out what the director of this production, Steven Stead,
is trying to achieve, for the message is very mixed. In one sense he
is clearly going way beyond the libretto in making bad taste and public
indecency something more overt than it actually is, but at the expense
of the sexual intrigue which is the principle theme of this opera. In
another, he is making a statement about political subversion which seems
hopelessly misplaced in one of Mozart’s most melodic and poetic of operas.
If this is about the degeneration of humanity into public and private
squalor it fails. And, those wonderful moments when the music conjures
up emotions of yearning and desolation (viz-à-viz the Countess’
misery) lack the emotional power they should.
The actual set design by Matthew Deely poses
the question: just what would ENO do without scaffolding? It dominated
both sides of the stage. An enormous water tank is suspended above the
centre, rather like a metallic tree hut – the most grotesque palace
imaginable. It is ugly in the sense that 1950’s housing is ugly. The
stage is virtually devoid of colour, the lighting by Farley Whitfield
seemingly affected by this rawness and nakedness. It is all far
too gloomy for Mozart, and more in keeping with Schoenberg.
The production is almost rescued by the
singing. Christopher Maltman, singing his first Figaro, is well
toned in every sense but lacked stage presence; Leigh Melrose’s
Count was grating on the ears and had the irritating habit of stomping
around stage like a petulant child. Carrying a machine gun which looked
more like a fish, and swamped in a cloak, he looked out of place, and
even more so when accompanied by his two combat-dressed lieutenants
– who at this performance looked uneasy and nervous, dropping a gun
here and there. Victoria Simmonds, as Cherubino, has the look
for the role – even though she too seemed ill at ease. She did, however,
sing beautifully, as did Mary Nelson who was a charming Susannah
in an utterly charmless production devoid of her values.
Best was the lithe playing of the ENO orchestra – beautifully
conducted by Jane Glover. She gave a quicksilver performance
of the score (from memory), her baton moving as if she was whisking
the lightest of cakes. It was effortless in a way this production was
just too much effort.