The Marriage of Figaro was premiered in febrile times, in 1786, on the eve of the French Revolution. Emperor Joseph II had at last approved the opera, following his ban on the politically ‘offensive’ Beaumarchais satire on which it is based.
Mozart and Da Ponte’s ploy was to embed its trenchant social critique in such a way that the piece can be read as more or less domestic farce – as Welsh National Opera does in its sparkling revival of Tobias Richter’s 2016 production, period-set within Ralph Koltai’s modernist designs and tautly directed by Max Hoehn.
Over a chaotic day-in-the-life of an aristocratic household, recognisably familiar characters run the gamut of human wiles and emotion within the absurd twists of a fast-moving, multilayered plot. It’s joyfully entertaining, with fine performances from cast, chorus and orchestra alike under Carlo Rizzi’s capable baton – and far from lacking in pathos, thanks to the dignity of Anita Watson’s wronged Countess.
But it’s wit that triumphs, with Soraya Mafi’s outstanding Susanna vying with David Ireland’s redoubtable Figaro for top plotter. Almaviva (a bedazzled, frustrated Jonathan McGovern) is more doltish than sinister, giving rise to the entirely credible suggestion that Cherubino, played with allure by Anna Harvey – and who nearly gets his way with the Countess – is an Almaviva-in-waiting.
The sense of gender battles repeated through generations is further heightened when buffoonish elders Marcellina and Bartolo (Leah-Marian Jones and Henry Waddington) are embraced into the circle. A cheeky Barbarina (Harriet Eyley), Laurence Cole (Antonio) and Richard Roberts (Basilio/Curzio) complete a wonderfully dysfunctional family.