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Le Nozze di Figaro review at Grange Festival – ‘a visually elegant and clearly directed production’

Toby Girling, Wallis Giunta and Ellie Laugharne in Le nozze di Figaro at The Grange Festival 2019. Photo: Clive Barda Toby Girling, Wallis Giunta and Ellie Laugharne in Le nozze di Figaro at The Grange Festival 2019. Photo: Clive Barda
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It’s refreshing to encounter a Marriage of Figaro set in period and – even more precisely – in Seville.

Designer Tim Reed creates elegant interiors, though Peter Mumford’s lighting does not really allow the identities of the disguised characters in the nocturnal final scene to be credibly hidden from one another.

Martin Lloyd-Evans’ direction, meanwhile, maintains a consistently clear narrative line.

The cast is stronger on the male side. Toby Girling’s volatile Almaviva is founded on a resilient baritone. In determined contention with him is Italian bass-baritone Roberto Lorenzi’s sharply defined Figaro. Old hands Jonathan Best and Richard Suart deliver closely observed character studies as Bartolo and Antonio respectively, and Ben Johnson’s Basilio thankfully avoids the still lingering camp stereotype.

As Almaviva’s neglected wife, Romanian soprano Simona Mihai’s seriousness tends to push the character too far towards tragedy, while vocally she experiences the odd hesitant moment. Ellie Laugharne’s personality-girl Susanna’s sheer busyness occasionally seems applied from without, but her vibrant tone is a distinct asset.

Wallis Giunta’s Cherubino balances the layered artifice of appearing boyish while more than once playing a boy playing a girl; her innate vocal warmth lends her pubertal pageboy a winning appeal. Louise Winter’s game Marcellina and Rowan Pierce’s manipulative Barbarina are equally focused.

The Academy of Ancient Music is conducted by its music director, Richard Egarr. A handful of wrong notes and Egarr’s mannered penchant for speeding up or slowing down are disconcerting; but in general his sense of period style adds to the character of the music-making.

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A visually elegant and clearly directed production opens The Grange Festival season