Sir David McVicar’s production of Le nozze di Figaro dates from 2006, and this revival is dedicated to the memory of the Royal Opera’s former Music Director, Bernard Haitink, who died last year. It is a worthy tribute in a strong performance. Tanya McCallin’s sets still serve the work well, enabling plausible proximities of servants and those they serve. If the spacious rooms of the Almaviva household appear more Schönbrunn than Seville, they provide space for the noble operatic art of lurking (and thus overhearing and misunderstanding). If the Act 4 garden looks more improvised than designed, it permits a swift segue on from Act 3 without lowering the curtain.

Giulia Semenzato (Susanna) and Riccardo Fassi (Figaro)
© ROH | Clive Barda

The programme refers to a “cast of rising stars” which proved a plausible claim. Almost every lead is Italian, and though baritone Davide Luciano had to withdraw, Count Almaviva was well taken by Argentinean Germán E Alcántara, a former Jette Parker Young Artist. The other non-Italian was Hanna Hipp’s Cherubino – also a graduate of that scheme – so there were two ways into this cast, being Italian or a JPYA.

Germán E Alcántara, Giulia Semenzato, Riccardo Fassi, Gianluca Buratto, Monica Bacelli
© ROH | Clive Barda

Native speakers help the recitatives to fizz along of course, but Alcántara, in his first major role here, showed vocal and histrionic gifts. In the Act 2 altercation with the Countess his violent side was visibly and vocally only just in check, an aristocrat aware he is losing control of events. His servant Figaro was well taken by Riccardo Fassi, whose stage presence supported his claim to be a gentleman. He sounded a touch small-voiced for the part in its lowest reaches, but his Act 4 solo was expertly delivered.

His Susanna was Giulia Semenzato, who does not yet dominate scenes as her character often does, but looks the part, sings with charm, though with vocal venom when she is crossed. And she managed to land numerous blows on her fiancé each of which was as about as harmful as a caress. Hipp’s Cherubino was a fair impersonation of that ‘little cherub’, yet never persuaded us that he was to be taken seriously as an amorous rival by anyone. Perhaps more vocal allure is needed to suggest Cherubino’s rampant ardour.

Federica Lombardi (Countess Almaviva)
© ROH | Clive Barda

No such ‘rising star’ allowance needed to be made for the Countess of Federica Lombardi, making her house debut, who seems to occupy a pinnacle already. Yes, her two arias are sublime gifts from Mozart but they need lovely tone, a long lyrical line, and breath control that enables both yet conceals the effort involved. “Porgi amor” delivered all that but “Dove sono” even went up a level – one sensed the full house caught in the spell, and one wondered whether the first “brava” would wait till the music ended. It did, and unleashed a sustained roar of approbation.

Riccardo Fassi (Figaro), Monica Bacelli (Marcellina) and Gianluca Buratto (Bartolo)
© ROH | Clive Barda

The oboist was almost as eloquent in that aria, but the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House is often at its considerable best when the Music Director Sir Antonio Pappano is conducting. His preparation doubtless was behind the vocal decorating of some second verses – that in “Dove sono” especially musical – though perhaps all young singers are now encouraged in this historic practice? Pappano often achieves great impetus because he understands the difference between truly energetic playing, with full attention to accents, and mere speed. His Act 2 finale was superbly paced and so too was the Countess’s final forgiving benediction, bestowing order at last on this folle journée

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