It is a mark of the energy of Douglas Nairne's translation and Oliver Platt's pacy direction that I found myself wondering just what Opera Bohemia had left out of their production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, which allowed it to fit into a hectic two-and-a-half hours including interval! This excellent Scottish troupe of young opera singers has built up an enviable reputation for accessible versions of famous operas, which they take around smaller venues, such as Nairn Community Centre, where they were hosted by Music Nairn.
All our favourite arias were there, expertly and expressively sung, as were the work's crowning glory, its magnificent ensembles. So what was missing? I concluded that it must just have been some of the faff! Normally this sort of portable production is accompanied by piano, and Opera Bohemia were fortunate in their versatile and accomplished pianist, Andrew Brown. However, a bonus was the cello contribution of Andrew Huggan, who deftly switched from accompaniment to melody, with rarely a moment to gather his wits.
The multi-talented Andrew McTaggart was perfectly cast in the eponymous role of Figaro, while his fiancée Susanna, was beguilingly presented by Catriona Clark. Indeed, all of the voices were extremely pleasing, with Arthur Bruce's Almaviva and his put-upon wife Rosina, portrayed by Charlie Drummond, being particularly memorable. Heather Ireson was charming as the haplessly hormonal Cherubino, while the three villains, Basilio, Marcellina and Bartolo were wonderfully believable, even when they turned to virtue. As always with Opera Bohemia, an ingeniously adaptable set rose to the challenge of the intricacies of the Beaumarchais' complex plot.
The hectic, knockabout production made for heightened pathos, when events tipped over into the poignant, as in Cherubino's departure to war (who could have foreseen the present context?) and most powerfully of all in the magnificent ensemble which concludes the opera. If I had one reservation about this excellent entertainment, it was that the singing and acting were generally a little too big for the venue – taking opera on tour to smaller audiences offers a golden opportunity for intimacy, and when some of the singers had the confidence to scale down their performances, the effect was magical.
I am always struck by the irony that the very aspects of this opera, which made it so controversial when it was first written – the entitlement of male aristocrats, the subjugation of the servant class, the suppression of women – are all assumptions which Beaumarchais challenges, and yet they are features which ultimately trap the opera in its own period. Modernise the action as you will, the issues remain set in aspic! Wisely, Opera Bohemia let this masterpiece speak largely for itself.