June 3, 2010
Le Nozze di Figaro“…the joy which this music causes is so far removed from all sensuality that one cannot speak of it. Where could words be found that are worthy to describe such joy?"
So wrote the Hungarian poet Ferenc Kazinczky, who was fortunate enough to attend one of the first performances of what is now one of the most beloved and often-performed operas in the repertoire. The joy was much in evidence at last night’s opening – tinged as it was with sadness, for this is the final season of Garsington Opera taking place in the heavenly grounds of Garsington Manor – and from the opening chords of that famous overture, uncontrollable grins of happiness could be seen on many faces in the audience. The music does somehow have the power, not only to make your heart beat faster and your nerves tingle and your hair stand up on end, but to make you suffer and feel with the characters in what is, let’s face it, a bedroom-farce of a play, as if you had undergone a much more serious dramatic journey, as if you had experienced something profoundly moving about humanity, betrayal, forgiveness, and love. Mozart’s music and Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto are an awesome combination. They knew perfectly well what they were doing – da Ponte’s preface to the published version of the libretto claims that they were essentially creating a new kind of musical drama, where the music, though still complex and sparkling, underpins and intensifies the emotions of the characters.
This production is a perfect gem. The sets and costumes are exquisitely beautiful – the set actually got its own round of applause when it suddenly turned into the ravishing night-time garden of the fourth Act – and as ever at Garsington the cast was young, awesomely talented, bounding with energy, radiating beauty. James Oldfield was a magisterial Figaro, gleefully pitting his wits against Grant Doyle’s handsome and unmistakably virile Count Almaviva; Sophie Bevan and Kishani Jayasinghe were beautifully balanced in the two lead soprano parts; a petite blonde dynamo for Susanna, a tall, raven-haired beauty for the grieving Rosina, two women who respect, love and help each other, and whose glorious voices perfectly express their different personalities. Swedish mezzo-soprano Anna Grevelius was a triumph as Cherubino, absolutely convincing as a teenage boy exploding with hormones, unable to resist temptation, impishly addicted to mischief. Bartolo (Conal Coad) and Marcellina (Jean Rigby) were also superbly voiced and at the same time wonderfully sympathetic and funny. All the mishaps and misadventures were delightfully expounded; and as for the final scenes with their heart-stoppingly beautiful arias, where could words be found that are worthy to describe such joy?
I don’t know whether there are any tickets left for Le Nozze di Figaro, but there might be for the two slightly less well-known operas, Armida and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tickets range from £85 to £155. This is a lot for one evening, but less than New College’s Commem Ball, and it is a delightfully long evening – all operas contain an interval of one and a half hours in which you can wander all over the magically beautiful gardens and find a sunny nook for your picnic supper.
Climbing up to the top of the auditorium will give you a stunning panorama of the Oxfordshire countryside, which after this summer can never be seen again. So dress up in your poshest frock, wander through the Italian pool with its weathered statues, marvel at the eccentric beauty of the formal flower garden, smell the heavenly scent of the old roses, explore the winding paths to forgotten corners. Do it now, while the weather is lovely. You’ll remember it for ever.