Swift playful strings and a melody that brings a crescendo of tension and excitement: right from the start Figaro feels like it’s going to be a fun, enjoyable evening. The orchestra is neatly placed in the transept of St. David’s Church, ready to fill the imposing space with the spirit of Mozart’s lively symphonies for the rest of the evening. The first act begins, revealing a version of The Marriage of Figaro set in the 1920s England, a smart choice to render the opera more accessible to the audience. Coming as no surprise the plot develops around the wedding of Figaro, played confidently by Jacob Harrison, and Susanna, portrayed by Hannah-Louise Vine and Anna Sarman. The two spouses-to-be are obstructed in their union by Count Almaviva, played intensely by Hugo Wickham, who desires to seduce Susanna on the night of her wedding. The plot stumbles through a series of twists and trickeries which lead to situations of conspiracy and misunderstanding. The performance navigates through themes of love, power and seduction, bearing both the mask of humour and of profound emotion, in order to attain a serene finale.
the ’20s take on the narrative, enacted by the vocally talented cast, cannot help but deserve the standing ovation it received for its boldness and ingenuity
Overall the performance, set up in the impressive period of a month and a half, is undeniably entertaining. The combination of Mozart’s prodigious pieces with a somewhat Shakespearean engagement with the public and a dash of modern humour makes the opera accessible and familiar. The movement between scenes is swift and well handled to produce humorous entrances. Because of the society’s low budget, their painted cardboard setting can be forgiven especially when in the fourth act the “holy stage” of St. David’s Church presents an impressive setting where the disclosing of the altar adds depth and layers to the garden scene.
Generally, the cast presents itself as vocally well-equipped, with a range that smoothly hits the more arduous notes. Particularly impressive was the resonance and fullness in Figaro’s confident voice memorable from the first scene; as well as the richness in the Countess’ bel canto which transmitted the character’s emotional state entirely throughout her song. The church itself also adds to the cast’s voice by including a magnificent sonority to their vocals which effortlessly filled the ordinarily silent space above the nave. When it comes to acting the cast was sometimes lacking and has undoubtedly space to grow, however this allowed for their vocals to steal the stage.
the cast presents itself as vocally well-equipped, with a range that smoothly hits the more arduous notes
During an interview, the performance director and society president Katherine Rees revealed that the Societies Council initially were against the formation of an Opera Society in Term 3, stating that the aims and objectives of the society needed to be clearer. However, Rees wanted to “fight for a society of inclusion where individuals with different backgrounds could come together to appreciate the beauty of this traditional art”. Having experienced this new take on Mozart’s original masterpiece, Rees definitely manages to bring something new to Exeter spectators. The location allows for a break in the audience-performance barrier, and the ’20s take on the narrative, enacted by the vocally talented cast, cannot help but deserve the standing ovation it received for its boldness and ingenuity.
Ultimately, the Opera Society opens the door to a whole new sphere of the arts, welcoming both a varied audience and cast. The society is just at the start of its journey but will hopefully have plenty of occasions to flourish given the success of its first performance.