After an abortive attempt at catching English Touring Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro in Hackney during the February blizzards – a distant memory in these balmy Hawaii-beating temperatures – a visit to Bromley’s Churchill Theatre offered a second chance to see it before the company heads up to Durham by way of Sheffield.

Rachel Redmond (Susanna) and Nadine Benjamin (Countess) © Jane Hobson
Rachel Redmond (Susanna) and Nadine Benjamin (Countess)
© Jane Hobson

It’s worth noting the easiness of the colour-blind casting; no posturing or point-scoring is made from the diversity of the singers, instead letting the quality of the voices sing for themselves. But director Blanche McIntyre’s concept does little to provoke thought. There’s the familiar and somewhat tired trope of a play within a play emphasised by a tech crew member, complete with headset, marching purposefully across the stage and cast members taking ‘selfies’ while the overture plays, a token effort to add another layer which could be removed with no tears shed. Beyond that, it’s a standard period production with a dearth of depth and vision, such a shame given how relevant the opera feels to current events at the time of the production run. Cast direction too seemed lacking in Personenregie. Designer Neil Irish has created a pared down set, sparsely furnished but with tasteful backdrops which one imagines are both cost-effective and tolerable to transport as ETO criss-crosses the country.

Dawid Kimberg (Count Almaviva) and Rachel Redmond (Susanna) © Jane Hobson
Dawid Kimberg (Count Almaviva) and Rachel Redmond (Susanna)
© Jane Hobson

The quality of the singing compensated for the production’s conceptual defects. Susanna is often overshadowed by the Countess, but Rachel Redmond gave the production its heart, positively buzzing with energy and sass. Her voice is beautifully clear at the top and although it is not the largest of instruments the care she showed in articulation and phrasing was obvious. Her Figaro was sung by Ross Ramgobin who matched her energy with a cheeky and amiable stage presence, effectively conveying the valet’s quick-wittedness though not perhaps quite as successful in summoning the more negative emotions such outrage at the Count’s intentions towards Susanna or misery and anger at the thought of her betrayal. Credit to Ramgobin though for delivering “Non più andrai” while doing press ups... with no apparent detriment to either!

Ross Ramgobin (Figaro) and Nadine Benjamin (Countess) © Jane Hobson
Ross Ramgobin (Figaro) and Nadine Benjamin (Countess)
© Jane Hobson

Of the cast, it was Dawid Kimberg who most seemed hindered by poor direction. His Count suffered a fatal lack of either charisma or real danger and was largely left to sing in the old stand and deliver tradition. It was a shame, because his baritone provided a sense of bulky authority with a reasonable lower register and good diction. His Countess, sung by Nadine Benjamin, gave the stand-out moment of the evening with a silvery and deeply felt “Dove sono”. Benjamin’s performance was occasionally impaired by lapses in diction, but her warm tone and flexibility made it a memorable account of the role.

Katherine Aitken’s Cherubino was very much in the usual style of boisterous and priapic young page, but showed off a silky and flavoursome mezzo. Of the more minor roles, John-Colyn Gyeantey gave a superb turn as a dandyish Don Basilio, simpering and mincing across the stage, attempting to ingratiate himself with oily smirks. Devon Harrison’s gardner was an appropriately earthy figure and Gaynor Keeble’s Marcellina was sung with forceful precision.

In the pit, Christopher Stark led a buoyant reading of the piece with commendable playing from all sections. Some deft trimming to the score took the length comfortably below three hours and avoided any fatigue detracting from a fine vocal performance.