A severed head from a monumental statue features a memento mori as a duo are caught “holding” under a doona while the soft tones of Mozart’s overture to Figaro’s Wedding float in the last performance of the show. ‘Western Australian Opera House at Maj for 2021.
There’s something more than a marriage going on as Figaro (Jeremy Kleeman) and Susanna (rising WAO star Prudence Sanders) attempt to instill domesticity as a random crowd of movers disrupt their efforts, with the only clue to Mozart’s time is an abandoned portrait of Napoleon.
The natural acting and voices of the romantic actors draw the audience into a familiar story with a dark belly; the Earl – a bombastic, magnetic Teddy Tahu Rhodes channeling Harvey Weinstein in a bathrobe and tuxedo jacket – hasn’t quite ruled out exercising his feudal right from the first night with Susanna.
Figaro protests against this problem of lightning rod in the cantata Se vuol ballare, “If you want to dance, small account, I will call the melody”, while Rhodes pirouettes in a caricatural fantasy – a characteristic quality of this production of ‘Opera Queensland skillfully directed by Patrick Nolan and provocatively designed by Marg Horwell, with flexible choreography by Elise May.
A shallow stage filled with several doors creates a 2D space where bubbles of thought and speech spring up in surtitles integrated into the ensemble, imparting a sense of immediacy and transience.
The vaudeville touches of experienced WAO duo Nicole Youl (Marcellina) and Robert Hofmann (Don Bartolo) expertly connect with the lore of comic opera, but the darker side of Beaumarchais’ pre-revolutionary French pieces which under – the plot rumbles in the dramatic air, La Vendetta. When Marcellina’s drawings on Figaro put her in contact with Susanna, sparks fly in strongly ironic compliments.
The libidinous and transvestite Cherubino, played by Perth mezzo Amy Yarham, injects ingenuous energy; the ambiguity of the character given new life to a non-binary age.
Likewise, Matthew Lester as Don Basilio – an unwelcome living room lizard in a shell costume – freshens the mix; and the vocal quality through the principals and backing vocals is first class, ably supported by the WA Symphony Orchestra and conductor Chris van Tuinen.
But it’s hard to get past Rhodes’ presence and gravity, both as a solo voice and as a foundation for ensemble vocals in the plot jokes.
Kleeman’s Figaro is a shape-shifting con artist who subtly brings the chorus into the scene to avoid a fit, then sends the hapless Cherubino to war with perhaps the best-known tune, No piu andrai, “You no longer fly ”.
And yet there is more.
The second act features the Countess – a moment of queen of former UWA and WAO Lisa Harper-Brown, the voice and presence were still alluring, a picture of desolation in the midst of wealth; the thin space now a boudoir full of bling but devoid of joy.
A sub-plot is concocted by the countess, Susanna and Cherubino, with the canzona, Voi che sapete, “You who know love”, a seductive line open to all genres.
When the Earl blunders demanding satisfaction, the contrast is stark: his solution is a set of industrial-scale bolt cutters, while the desperate Countess clutches a wrench to her chest.
Meanwhile, the roles of the characters continue to give; Antonio the Gardener (Callen Dellar) injects a bucolic-alcoholic spirit, and Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio are like three cronies in their plot against Figaro – another problem Figaro has to solve, like a high octane game by Whack- a -Mole; each time he solves the question, the question changes.
Act three features the wedding in a large, ruined ballroom, but not before the count takes revenge after hearing Susanna’s thought bubble in Figaro: Hai gia vinta la causa, “We have already won.” “.
The Count’s vow of vengeance turns the plot around, but it is the women who win both in musical and Machiavellian terms.
Che soave zefiretto, “What a sweet little zephyr”, sung first by the countess, joined in duet by Susanna, is a pin-point moment setting up the marriage and the last stabbing.
Act four, in the garden, is beyond spoiler alert, as the shapeshifter Figaro finds his world in motion: Aprite un po quegli occhi, “Open your eyes”, male countings led by women , a dramatic moment accompanied by Easter Island -like apparitions; the last fatalistic chords beaten on stage with a powerless fist.
Susanna is then in the spotlight, her rose aria Deh vieni, non tardar, o gioja bella, “Oh, come, don’t be late, my beautiful joy”, rising ethereal over a comic landscape while Figaro clumsily does the clown in the background.
Still, the two are reconciled, and the Count’s final arrival at the hands of the Countess is the final knot of a #MeToo tale with a difference.
(And if anyone thinks Mozart is sexist, check the bathroom lines in the meantime.)
The Marriage of Figaro continues until October 30. www.waopera.asn.au.