Zur Oper am 25. August 1976 in Edinburgh

The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 26. August 1976

Second look at glowing "Figaro"

‘Le Nozze di Figaro’: Edinburgh Festival Opera – King’s Theatre

Cast your mind back to last year and the embattled discussions inspired by Edinburgh Festival Opera’s version of "Le Nozze di Figaro."

Old friends nearly came to blows about the merits of Barenboim’s Mozartean conducting, not to mention Sir Geraint Evans’s production. Its current revival should keep the pot boiling for in nearly all respects it is as before, save for one important change of cast.

That possibility conceded, last night’s performance must be rated a major success, a happy affair, which sent the audience out into the night glowing and in the best of humours. With so illustrious a cast, and with the English Chamber Orchestra in the King’s Theatre pit (which by its elevation puts a premium on quiet playing) no less could be expected.

Here was Fischer-Dieskau at his most patrician as Count Almaviva, exuding noble condescension and bad intentions, singing superbly though with a curious trick of half speadint his recitatives. (Effective from him, it could be disastrous in others.) Heather Harper’s Countess has blossomed. She now garlands her native dignity with a charming skittishness, as if in her distress she had suddenly remembered her day as Rosina when Almaviva stole her from Dr. Bartolo.

Teresa Berganza’s Cherubino is of course enchanting, not least because she presents him as a poised and sophisticated youth, free of the usual puppyish antics. The newcomer was the admirable and attractive Judith Blegen, vocally and dramatically a Susanna to treasure, stylish needlesharp in her responses to shifting situations and patently besotted with her Figaro. But then Figaro was played by Sir Geraint, giving a ripe and rich performance which nevertheless always remained in context.

That in fact was the clue to his production. Whereas some of his general ideas, new or old, were of doubtful virtue, he had obviously concentrated on characterisation. This basically serious approach to the plot paid dividends all round, equally so in the smaller roles – in Elizabeth Gale’s Barbarina, familiar from Glyndebourne, in Birgit Finnila’s fruity but not grotesque Marcellina, in John Fryatt’s sardonic Basilio, and William McCue’s Dr. Bartolo, visually a wholly eighteenth Century figure.

Christopher Grier

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