However many times you watch The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart’s near-mathematical perfection (in music and plot) can always strike you afresh. With Regents Opera, it is the brilliant interior architecture of lust, human cunning and continuous gamesmanship which comes to the fore. Thanks to a glorious Susanna (Claire Wild) and an excellent Count (James Harrison), Beaumarchais’ tale finds its voice as a playful conversation between the resourceful, effective female and the nonplussed, suspicious and ultimately foiled male - with many a laugh along the way.

Claire Wild as Susanna, Elinor Rolfe Johnson as the Countess © Regents Opera
Claire Wild as Susanna, Elinor Rolfe Johnson as the Countess
© Regents Opera
Director Nicholas Heath has created a dynamic in-the-round production, sung unhesitatingly in Da Ponte’s original Italian, which finds the key virtue of all small-scale opera: the power to bring us intimately close to the work. Classic period costumes by Costumologists (complete with wigs, powder and beauty spots) locate us firmly in 18th century Seville, but there is nothing fusty about Heath’s directoral approach, which incorporates moments of farce and even touches of comic surrealism: so, to improve the luxuriance of his orange tree, the ill-tempered gardener Antonio brings out the Bostik to glue on a spare branch while no one’s looking, while later, Figaro tactfully helps his newly-found father, Dr Bartolo, put his hip back in order after too much post-wedding dancing. Best of all, the enraged Count finds exciting ways to express his anger through the medium of fruit… Which I won’t spoil.

Claire Wild steals the show as a spirited and sassy Susanna, a first-class actress with a rich soprano and superb projection, crisply convincing at all times with her beautifully enunciated Italian. Wild’s performance is full of keenly observed detail, never flagging or switching off on stage. The vaulted, pillared interior of St Cyprians’s has a generous acoustic, which Wild exploits sensitively. In a strong and sustained performance, Susanna’s duet with the Countess, “Sull'aria...che soave zeffiretto” is a moment of sheer beauty, while her “Deh vieni non tardar” is sensuous and teasing.

James Harrison as Count Almaviva © Regents Opera
James Harrison as Count Almaviva
© Regents Opera

James Harrison follows hard on Wild’s heels as a commanding Count, with just the right balance of subtle menace and sudden, delusional passion. Mozart’s Count is so much more interesting than his younger self in Rossini: pride and determination vie constantly with masculine anxiety and vulnerability as he lurches from anger and jealousy to tenderness and shame, and Harrison takes care to trace the Count’s shifting emotional logic for us clearly, in a satisfying performance. An incendiary “Hai gia vinta la causa” gives way to palpable stage chemistry with Susanna, and then touching scenes of passionate reconciliation with his Countess: it’s clear theirs is a marriage worth saving, even if he is (pitiably) easily distracted by any passing female.

Flora McIntosh as Cherubino © Regents Opera
Flora McIntosh as Cherubino
© Regents Opera
Flora McIntosh is a delight as Cherubino, endowing him with boyish cheek as well as adolescent gawkiness, and singing his wonderful arias with supreme skill and control: her “Voi, che sapete” is superb. McIntosh’s projection easily rivals Wild’s, her voice soaring cleanly throughout. Joseph Doody is hilariously camp, and deeply musical, as Basilio, in Heath’s vision a sensually abandoned priest as well as a music master. Elinor Rolf Johnson warms up into the role of the Countess, growing in passionate conviction and intensity, portraying nicely the distinction between the gentlewoman and the servants that surround her. Rolf Johnson’s “Dove sono” shimmers with passion, and her “E Susanna non vien!” is stunning. Caroline Kennedy is appealing and natural as Barbarina, her “L’ho perduta” nicely fraught.

We also have a joyously pompous and ageing Bartolo from Gerard Delrez, Mae Heydorn as a nicely sour and clingy Marcellina, and a thoroughly enjoyable (and, by other characters’ reactions, fittingly fragrant) Antonio from John Milne.

Alongside Claire Wild’s superb Susanna and James Harrison’s compelling Count, Peter Brooke’s discomfited Figaro did not so much conquer as merely capitalise by default on each scene. Even in “Tutto è disposto... Aprite un po' quegli occhi”, Figaro’s aura of sulky irritation didn’t quite befit a man who thinks he’s lost the love of his wife on their wedding night. However, this is Susanna’s opera.

© Regents Opera
© Regents Opera
 The piano accompaniment by Benjamin Woodward, accentuated by a flute (Hazel Woodcock), two clarinets (Julia Holmes and Elizabeth Drew) and a bassoon (Connie Turner), collectively The Regents Consort, gives a general sense of Mozart’s score: not a sparkling rendition, but workmanlike, though Woodward’s phrasing can sometimes feel almost defiantly plain. Timing problems also take hold at times, partly because of the inevitable risks of performing an opera in the round, in a large church, with singers singing in all directions while the instrumentalists stay in one place. However, most of these blips are smoothly recovered within a phrase or two. In any case, the real value of this production is its energy and sheer human verve, alongside its excellent principals: Mozart’s timeless characters have never seemed more alive.