Hollywood does well by sequels, so why not opera? Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro positively invite a successor, not least due to the fact Beaumarchais himself left a third play in his trilogy prepared for adaptation. Milhaud tried it, Corigliano borrowed some of the characters, but their operas have not caught on.
Enter composer Elena Langer and librettist David Pountney with Figaro Gets a Divorce. Welsh National Opera is enterprisingly offering the three operas in tandem, so audiences can comply with the story in sequence. That may possibly not support, even though. The new situation is intentionally disruptive, transporting plot and characters to a new era of experiences.
Pountney has dropped Figaro and company down in the 1930s (like Ŏdön von Horváth’s play just before him). How will they survive in a globe more Brecht than Beaumarchais? The Almaviva household have turn into migrants fleeing a rightwing coup, apparently in Latin America to judge from the dance music. The Count degenerates into a compulsive gambler. Cherubino is a cross-dressing barman, known as “the Cherub”, in a casino. It is hard to keep up with it all. The tone veers from surrealism to revue, existentialist angst to romantic comedy. No wonder the characters finish up masquerading as inmates in a lunatic asylum.
The most successful creation is a new character far from the original, a sinister manipulator of people referred to as The Major, sinuously delineated in Langer’s music and brilliantly sung by Alan Oke. The cast is powerful, particularly on the male side, with Mark Stone as the Count and David Stout as Figaro. Andrew Watts is vocally seductive as the doubly transvestite Cherubino. Elizabeth Watts and Marie Arnet perform challenging as the emotionally overwrought Countess and Susanna.
It is outstanding that Langer’s music manages to preserve pace with the stylistic somersaults of the plot, but it does. Tango, pantomime, impending doom, youthful romance: she brings all to life, employing a modest-sized orchestra, vividly conducted by Justin Brown. In the end, though, it is all as well much. Mozart’s genius was to develop men and women on stage we really feel we know. On this rollercoaster of an opera these much-loved close friends get lost from sight.
To April 7, wno.org.uk
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