There are few operas more perfect than Le nozze di Figaro. David McVicar’s production, returning for a fifth time at the Royal Opera, updates the action to the eve of the 1830 Revolution, set in a French château. Leah Hausman deftly directs this revival, allowing much of the comedy to stem from the situations set up by Mozart and da Ponte. She is aided by a terrifically funny turn by Erwin Schrott, channelling his inner Joey Tribbiani in a range of pratfalls and double takes worthy of Friends actor and Schrott lookalike Matt LeBlanc.

Erwin Schrott (Figaro) and Anita Hartig (Susanna) © Mark Douet | ROH
Erwin Schrott (Figaro) and Anita Hartig (Susanna)
© Mark Douet | ROH

The Uruguayan’s trousers were around his ankles before the end of the overture as the valet was joshed by his fellow servants. Schrott is a natural comedian, sometimes inclined to overplay his hand, but not so here. His antics, comic timing and audience engagement made his Figaro a loveable character. Vocally, he was a touch cloudy, especially in “Se vuol ballare”, but his burnt umber bass-baritone is still tremendously appealing and his Act IV aria “Aprite un po' quegli occhi” was beautifully shaded. Schrott’s Figaro was dangerous too. The opening phrases of “Non piu andrai” was addressed to the Count – an early warning that the game is up – and the brief moment when Figaro squares up to the Count in Act III was powerful; the whiff of revolution hit the nostrils as the fandango strutted its stuff in the pit.  

Stéphane Degout (Count Almaviva) and Anita Hartig (Susanna) © Mark Douet | ROH
Stéphane Degout (Count Almaviva) and Anita Hartig (Susanna)
© Mark Douet | ROH
Schrott’s dramatic match came in the form of Stéphane Degout’s Almaviva, a predatory Count, susceptible to Susanna’s teasing. He delivered a tormented “Vedrò, mentr'io sospiro”, during the second half of which he was observed by half his household – a very public declaration of revenge. Despite clumsy ornamentation and some absent consonants, the power of Degout’s portrayal was vivid.

Schrott and Degout’s opposite numbers weren’t quite so strong. Anita Hartig lacked the minx-like character to be a sharp-witted Susanna, but she sang the role pleasantly, once one adjusted to her lightning vibrato. I enjoyed Ellie Dehn’s Countess a good deal; the elegant American soprano, making her House debut, has a lighter soprano than usual in the role and looks younger than her maid. This gave additional vulnerability to her character, her silkily phrased “Dove sono” especially poignant. Dehn and Hartig didn’t sound dissimilar either, which helped their voices to blend sensitively in their “Sull’aria” duet.

As testosterone-fuelled pageboy Cherubino, Kate Lindsey’s plum-coloured lower notes aided a terrific rendition of “Voi che sapete”. There was a palpable frisson of sexual chemistry between Cherubino and the Countess, which would more than justify Almaviva’s worst suspicions. Ann Murray was a waspish Marcellina, and although Carlo Lepore lacks bass depth, he blustered effectively as Dr Bartolo. Diminutive soprano Heather Engebretson stood out as a feisty Barbarina, a most promising Royal Opera debut.

Ellie Dehn (Countess Almaviva) and Kate Lindsey (Cherubino) © Mark Douet | ROH
Ellie Dehn (Countess Almaviva) and Kate Lindsey (Cherubino)
© Mark Douet | ROH

Hausman’s dramatic pacing took a while to fire. A lacklustre Act I, during which dramatic and comedic sparks didn’t really fly for want of trying too hard, gave way to more natural pacing in Act II. The situation where Figaro’s lies are embroidered to cover up Cherubino’s presence in – and escape from – the Countess’ bedroom was delectably handled. The bluff and counter-bluff in Act IV’s garden scene was always perfectly clear in terms of who knows what. Tanya McCallin’s handsome sets were sensitively lit by Paule Constable, shadows looming from Act III onwards.

© Mark Douet | ROH
© Mark Douet | ROH

One puzzlement. When the Count is caught out in Act IV, he begs his wife forgiveness. His line “Contessa perdono” shouldn’t get a laugh, but that’s precisely what it got here. It received the same response at The Met’s season opener last year. Why? This is a moment of bitter regret, met by a magnanimous response from the Countess, even if we suspect that their marriage will never truly recover.

Ivor Bolton led a bright and breezy account of the score, sometimes pushing ahead of his singers, but his dramatic pacing kept the musical temperature high. Hard timpani sticks were the only notable concession to historically informed performance practice, but there was clean articulation in woodwind solos.

Not quite the perfect performance, but a thoroughly entertaining one of a well nigh perfect opera.