In a city where every available square meter has opened its doors to welcome the stage, it is comparatively rare to happen across a venue that isn’t a total eyesore, complete with a fair share of sticky floors and leaflets everywhere. Yet here I find myself, settling down to watch Opera Bohemia perform Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in the calm of the ancient interior of St Cuthbert’s Church. My fellow audience members include saints patiently waiting in their stained glass whilst the Madonna and Child statues to the left of me eagerly anticipate what is to come. The still, heavy silence that fills the packed church is abruptly pierced by an orchestral crescendo, followed by a voice that almost renders itself biblical as we meet Figaro (Andrew McTaggart) and his sweetheart Susanna (Catriona Clark). A powerful duo, their voices dance with the most splendid cadence as they superbly carry the show.
The stage itself is remarkable and reminiscent of a glamorous transatlantic liner. It is the perfect vessel for the frenzy that unfurls, separated into three different compartments through which the actors glide effortlessly. Their motion is flawless, and the stage’s solidity perfectly counteracts the frantic pace of the opera.
Moreover, the colours are lurid and modern, creating a perfect balance with the soft, timeless passion of this 1786 Italian libretto. The range of costumes is equally superb, and costume designer Rachael Light is to be commended. The glee Cherubino (Heather Ireson) sounds his youthful anguish in a bluebell boy costume, whilst we first meet the noble Count Almaviva (Arthur Bruce) in boxers, a tasteless gold dressing gown and a wife beater vest that bares one of his nipples. It is a fantastic first viewing of the rakish count, and the power of Bruce’s stunning voice echoes his character’s pomposity.
Fascinating to watch as a collective force, their voices come together in what is a powerful, deeply affecting medley. Yet it is each individual performance that makes this show both explosive and captivating, as each character’s personal struggles are explored in intricate, painful detail. Each performance is so physical, their entire bodies are used to propel their emotions further into the audience. The most touching, and one whose voice seemed to transcend the sacred space we found ourselves in, was Countess Rosina (Charlie Drummond). Drummond’s control of the Countess’ inner turmoil is seen both physically and in the well-timed quivers of her powerful performance. The grace with which she holds herself and her voice is nothing short of heavenly.
Opera can often feel inaccessible and gatekept by an older, more learned audience. I do not pretend to know anything about the complexities of falsettos and sopranos, yet I do know that Opera Bohemia are Opera’s perfect evangelists as they sound their song around Scotland. To witness opera of such a high standard, and at an accessible price, is certainly rare enough.
The Marriage of Figaro, although eponymously male, is entirely reliant upon the machinations of its female characters. In the final Act, Drummond and Clark wear matching white wedding dresses, powerful symbols of their societal roles. Yet it is the interpretation of the finale that shows the real genius of Opera Bohemia. What is normally performed as a joyful resolution between the Count and Countess, heavy with forgiveness and gaiety, finishes instead on a discordant note. The Countess’ refusal to forgive Almaviva is symbolised physically by her being brought a suitcase, as she embarks upon her new journey alone. This is not the joyous farce that we were expecting, but instead an honest and empowering message that chooses to override the gender norms and stereotypes of Mozart’s epoch. Drummond’s performance here was exceptional, perfectly encapsulating the raw, unfiltered energy that was central to this performance of Marriage of Figaro.
Press Images courtesy of Opera Bohemia.