‘No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible’, declared poet W. H. Auden. Therefore Beaumarchais’ eighteenth century play, ‘Le Mariage de Figaro’, set in Count Almaviva’s castle in Seville, is the perfect story for Mozart’s world famous opera.
Whilst both Beaumarchais’ play and Mozart’s opera became hugely popular, they were initially not so well received by people of authority (thanks partly to the appearance of the name of Figaro, a mere valet of the count, in the title of the work). French King Louis XVI described the play as ‘atrocious’ and banned its performance, and Joseph II of Austria insisted that Mozart remove several political references before the opera was performed.
Yet today, the work is one of the most popular operas, and its performance in Oxford’s renowned Sheldonian theatre is sure to be a hit.
The cast comprises of some of Oxford University’s finest singers both past and present- Christopher Borrett, playing Figaro, now sings with the Monteverdi choir, and Robyn Allegra Parton (Susanna), formerly choral scholar at Worcester College, is on the young artists’ programme at the Royal College of Music. The count, played by George Coltart, has stage presence which befits his position, and both his advances on Parton’s Susanna and her struggle to fight him off contain almost tangible emotion.
Director Max Hoehn strives to create a ‘period feel’ in the Sheldonian, with a raised stage enhanced by a painted backdrop. And he insists that whilst not wanting to sound ‘frilly’ and despite the serious moments in the plot (its references to droit de seigneur and feudal attitudes), it is important to put across the humour Mozart intended in the music. This is particularly on display in the performance of the count’s page, Cherubino, played by Claire Eadington- Cherubino’s boyish charm is particularly evident in Eadington’s rendition of the aria ‘Non so piu’.
The orchestra, too, is full of the university’s best musicians, selected from various ensembles. And whilst, at the time of writing, they perhaps lack the cohesion that a pre-formed orchestra would display, they offer an enthusiastic yet well balanced support to the fantastic cast.
Certainly not to be missed- an ambitious project by an exceptionally talented cast that will be enjoyed by experienced opera-goers and newcomers alike, nearing the quality of an opera house yet with the prices of student theatre. This production is an ideal introduction to the world of opera, sensible or not.
Performances on November 10th and 11th, Tickets available online at