Despite a relatively easy-to-follow storyline, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro is an opera that is hard to pull off entirely successfully. Musically, it requires enormous vigour from both cast and orchestra; dramatically, this opera buffa demands strong acting skills in order to eke out its moments of farce. The Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s production made very good efforts on both counts, though it was not without flaw.

Subtitled La folla giornata (“The day of madness”), Le Nozze is a work with almost soap opera-like twists in its tale. Figaro and Susanna, two servants of Count and Countess Almaviva, are due to be married, but the Count has his eyes on Susanna and plots to delay the wedding. Meanwhile, Figaro had previously agreed to marry Marcellina in the event that he should default on a loan she had given him, but it turns out that she is his mother (and her lawyer his father). Susanna, Figaro and the Countess plan to expose the Count’s infidelity by dressing up Cherubino, a page with amorous pangs for the Countess, as a woman, but when their plot is interrupted they instead decide that the Countess will dress as Susanna and meet the Count for a late-night tryst. As Susanna and the Countess swap clothes in anticipation of the Count’s arrival, Figaro realises what is happening and goes along with the scheme. The Count, enraged that Figaro is amorously involved with the “Countess”, is embarrassed when the real Countess reveals herself. All ends well, however, when the Count and Countess reconcile, and Figaro and Susanna finally get hitched.

The Guildhall’s production, under the direction of Martin Lloyd-Evans, is set in modern-day America. The servants in this opera are Mexican immigrants; Count Almaviva is a smarmy, Fox (or “Cox”, as the television had it) News-swilling Republican candidate for Governor, with the Countess his trophy wife. Figaro is a valet, whilst Susanna is the Countess’ beauty therapist. The transposition from 18th-century Seville worked rather well, highlighting the characters’ neuroses and shallow behaviour. Bridget Kimak’s decision to place a trailer-sized box centre-stage was inspired: it served first as the back of a lorry, then as Figaro’s bedroom (resembling the stereotypical American’s garage full of boxes, basketballs, and the like), the ultra-luxurious bedroom of Countess Almaviva, the Count’s campaign headquarters, and the setting for Figaro and Susanna’s wedding. Final-year student James Adkins’ use of videography was excellent and unobtrusive, a giant wavering American flag confirming the setting of the opera. Perhaps most effective was its use in the wedding scene towards the end – with the box full of chairs for the guests, the background became a sunset over the ocean, its waves gently frothing in the breeze.

The star of the show was undoubtedly Lucy Hall in the role of Susanna. Her clear soprano was a delight, and was well suited to her character, complementing Hadleigh Adams’ (Figaro) youthful but rich bass-baritone. Benjamin Appl was less vocally than dramatically commanding as Count Almaviva, but this in a role in which so much of the character is expressed through acting, it proved not to be a hindrance. Similarly, Adam Smith gave a commendable vocal performance, but really hit the mark with his on-stage antics as the camper-than-camp Basilio. Samantha Crawford made a deliciously scheming Countess, her superficialities (regardez the wardrobe full of pink stuff) belying her cunning. “Dove sono i bei momenti” was sensitively executed and a particular highlight of the evening, though one sensed that her powerful, developed voice may lead her away from Mozart in the future. Anna Starushkevych’s Cherubino sounded rather breathy in parts of “Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio”, but by the time she returned for ”Voi, che sapete”, any tiredness had given way to a warm, sonorous mezzo-soprano. She was dramatically outstanding, and had the audience in stitches – much laughter ensued as she dressed as Susanna (a hilarious woman-dressed-as-man-dressed-as-woman moment) and struggled to cope with the vertiginous heels she had been made to wear. There were some notable performances from Roisin Walsh (Marcellina) and James Platt (Doctor Bartolo), too.

If I were writing a school report on the orchestra, my remark would be “could have done better”. Conductor Dominic Wheeler whizzed through the overture at such speed that the faster-moving passages became a blur at the expense of the charm and cheek of Mozart’s opening music. The tempi were less brisk after that, but the playing lacked character. Whilst the ensemble was generally good, there was a moment in Act I when Figaro and Susanna were seriously out of sync with the orchestra, and a brief awkward pause ensued as the singers waited for the orchestra to catch up.

Nevertheless, it was a bold and enjoyable performance, and credit is due both to the production staff and the singers for making it so visually, musically and dramatically exciting.