The Lyric Opera’s 2015-16 season opened on Saturday night with a dazzling new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, complete with wading pool. From one of the evening’s first gestures – Amanda Majeski, stately as the Countess, pulling the curtain down instead of letting it rise – one knew that this production would play up the opera’s mischievousness no less than its spectacle. What is perhaps even more remarkable is the way the Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási, general music director of the Komische Oper in Berlin and new to these shores, finds so much room to breathe within the most frenetic of arias (such as Bartolo’s in the first act).

Christiane Karg (Susanna) and Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva) © Todd Rosenberg
Christiane Karg (Susanna) and Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva)
© Todd Rosenberg

The remarkable quartet of singers playing the two lead couples – Figaro and Susanna, the Count and Countess – had some early nerves that needed shaking out. But once they got going, their personalities beamed out to the audience like a spotlight: Adam Plachetka’s rambunctious puppy Figaro matched against Luca Pisaroni’s cartoon villain Count, while Christiane Karg’s megawatt Susanna pranced around Majeski’s composure.

Costume designer Susan Mickey makes it fun to come up with descriptives for the cast: look, there goes Rachel Frenkel’s Cherubino as a dandy skater pugilist, and there’s Keith Jameson’s Basilio, who looks like Liberace crossed with one of Santa’s elves. But the Versailles bordello aesthetic that runs through much of this production’s visual style didn’t come close to overshadowing the vocal talent, which is very strong. Majeski’s trilling vibrato is most distinctive, but I also savoured Frenkel’s slightly husky rendition of the boy in love. Once they found their feet, the whole cast was locked in rhythmically and emotionally.

Amanda Majeski (Countess Almaviva) © Todd Rosenberg
Amanda Majeski (Countess Almaviva)
© Todd Rosenberg

Director Barbara Gaines makes plenty of bids for the audience’s pleasure, including characters running through the hall and a flurry of sight gags. The simplest were often the most breathtaking; my favourite involved a tiny puff of flowers as Cherubino jumped into the garden. But set designer James Noone reserved some room for the rapturous too, as in the Count’s hall of low chandeliers or the Countess’s emperor-sized bed. The surtitles’ translations play it fast and loose, choosing emotional immediacy over precision (“sleazebag” instead of “scoundrel”, for example), and the result was a show that felt neither antiquated nor anxiously contemporary, which felt, simply, very appealing and approachable.

Which is not to say that some of it wasn’t uneven. Like, perhaps, the opera itself, Gaines seems to have rushed her work on the second half: the directing feels so much more thoughtful and precise in the first two acts. Yet even these were not without their strange moments, such as the odd spasm of Regietheater that comes when Figaro dresses Cherubino up for the military, only to reveal that he has clothed the boy not in lapels and brass buttons but the bloody gauze of an injured soldier. This may be evidence that the era of political stagings of classic operas, which were made possible by postmodernism’s flattening of history, have now themselves become subject to postmodernism’s drive to make all aesthetic materials equally available as mere content without context.

Rachel Frenkel (Cherubino) and Adam Plachetka (Figaro) © Todd Rosenberg
Rachel Frenkel (Cherubino) and Adam Plachetka (Figaro)
© Todd Rosenberg

What made this Figaro memorable and admirable, though, was the way it managed both to be sprightly in its tone and detail and also luxuriant in places that another director might have blown through. Rather than an entirely top-down approach, where a concept legislates all aspects of style and execution, it seemed as though the director and conductor worked hard to find and nurture moments of pleasure, including places where an aria, through a singer's gesture and a beat from the orchestra, would come to a near standstill in the midst of total chaos. It's what made this Figaro feel breezy and substantial all at once.