Opera Review: The Marriage of Figaro, State Opera SA

Mozart’s delightful opera buffa gets a modern makeover.
Marriage of Figaro. Image is a young woman in a wedding dress with veil holding out her arm with her hand held by a young man in a formal suit.

Mozart’s delightful opera buffa Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) was controversial from the moment it opened in 1786. The libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte was based on a play by Beaumarchais that was seen as nothing short of revolutionary because it outrageously lampooned the aristocracy and exposed their systemic sexism and classism. While clearly we can argue that those issues still exist in society, the world has changed in 250 years and it’s hard now to appreciate just how subversive this might have been.  

Figaro works as a bit of light-hearted romantic nonsense and as a period piece; I’m not so sure that reimagining it to today’s corridors of power really works. The opening scene, in the Minister’s office, complete with filing cabinet and wheelie bin, is underwhelming. This seems such a shame when the all-Australian cast is so good. 

Well-known bass-baritone Jeremy Kleeman is perfect in the title role and Adelaide’s own star, soprano Jessica Dean, absolutely sparkles as his true love Susanna. Emily Edmonds shows her comedic flair as the ‘low-born brat’ Cherubino, although the role itself is rather less defined in the modern makeover. Soprano Petah Cavallaro, currently Principal Young Artist with Opera Australia, is most impressive as the Countess. 

Together, Dean and Cavallaro make a colourful contrast, traditionally the mistress and the maid, now the Countess and the aide. Cavallaro is particularly fine for the Countess’ tender larghetto at the opening of Act Two. Cherie Boogaart deserves a special mention for her charmingly comic portrayal of Marcellina. Indeed, the cast are uniformly excellent and the State Opera Chorus, under their dedicated leader Anthony Hunt, are in fine voice; they also move well and make the most of the stage. 

There were a few hiccups on opening night – an earring fell and clattered across the stage; a wayward curtain caused a moment of anxiety; there were obvious typos in the surtitles – and there were some incidents they could not control, such as the loud ringing of a telephone in the stalls.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra gives a lively accompaniment under guest conductor Tobias Ringborg who leads from the fortepiano. He was most recently here in 2019 for State Opera’s Madama Butterfly. This reading of Figaro downplays the underlying tension in the score, preferring a warmer and more rousing interpretation. 

It is also pleasing to see the surtitles on big clear screens at each side of the stage rather than the usual (and more awkward) screen suspended high above the action.   

State Opera SA and director Nicholas Cannon have created a worthy reimagining of an opera classic, but I would have liked to see a little more glitz and glamour and rather less of the everyday – surely opera buffa is nothing if not an escape from the real world! 

Read: Theatre review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre

State Opera SA has a fabulous special ticket price of $30 for under 30s, so this could be a great opportunity for young people to experience the delights of opera at Her Majesty’s.  

The Marriage of Figaro
State Opera SA
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide

State Opera Chorus and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Tobias Ringborg
Director: Nicholas Cannon
Set and Costume Designer: Ailsa Paterson
Lighting Designer: Nigel Levings

Cast: Jeremy Kleeman, Jessica Dean, Nicholas Lester, Petah Cavallaro, Emily Edmonds, Cherie Boogaart, Pelham Andrews, Mark Oates, Lucy Stoddart, Jeremy Tatchell, Jiacheng Ding, Jessica Mills

The Marriage of Figaro will be performed until 25 November 2023.

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.