The Marriage of Figaro review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘perfectly cast’

English Touring Opera's The Marriage of Figaro at Hackney Empire, London. Photo: Jane Hobson English Touring Opera's The Marriage of Figaro at Hackney Empire, London. Photo: Jane Hobson
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English Touring Opera opens its enormous spring tour – more than 20 venues – with Mozart’s perennially popular comedy in a traditional production by Blanche McIntyre. The only departure from the book is the notion of a contemporary cast getting into period costume during the overture.

With Neil Irish’s handsome unit set skilfully conveying the interior and garden exterior of the 18th-century palace where the action takes place, McIntyre conveys all the numerous intricate developments in the complex intrigue that comprises the plot; she is successful, too, in helping a uniformly strong cast to realise their characters. BAME artists feature prominently. Jeremy Sams’ translation hits the spot.

Vital, alert and quite properly at the centre of things is Ross Ramgobin’s Figaro – another successful step forward in the career of this appreciably talented young baritone. Similarly seizing her dramatic opportunities while flaunting a lyric soprano of major quality is Nadine Benjamin as the Countess.

The warmth and precision of Rachel Redmond’s lighter voice draw attention to her sharp but human Susanna. With his manner suggesting the kind of entitlement that has recently become so notorious amongst various powerful male figures, Dawid Kimberg delivers the Count with nonchalant ease.

Perfectly capturing the boyish awkwardness of Cherubino is Katherine Aitken, whose refined mezzo-soprano proves an ideal match for Mozart’s music.

Secondary roles are nicely sketched in, with Gaynor Keeble a grand-scale Marcellina, Omar Ebrahim a redoubtable Bartolo, John-Colyn Gyeantey a knowing Basilio and Devon Harrison’s interventions as Antonio uproarious.

Conductor Christopher Stark maintains expertly chosen tempos while ETO’s orchestra is on top form, though the kind of vocal decoration Mozart would have expected is missing.

Presumably for economic reasons the show cuts the chorus, which is a bearable loss; but it’s a shame to jettison Figaro’s textually important last-act aria, especially with Ramgobin around to deliver it.

Tosca review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘a spirited production’

Blanche McIntyre’s perfectly cast staging is skilfully conducted by Christopher Stark