Mozart’s much-loved opera buffa, The Marriage of Figaro, is the latest production in English National Opera’s current season. A co-production with Opera Wuppertal, it’s directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins and stars bass-baritone Božidar Smiljanić in the title role, with soprano Louise Alder as the servant Susanna, baritone Johnathan McCullough as the Count, and soprano Elizabeth Watts as the Countess. The performance is led by conductor Kevin John Edusei.
Amusing and entertaining, yet subtly philosophical, The Marriage of Figaro was Mozart’s response to an invitation by Count Orsini-Rosenberg, director of the Burgtheater in Vienna, to write a comic opera. The Italian libretto – based on a 1784 play by Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais – was written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, and it was at the Burgtheater that the opera was premiered on May 1st, 1786.
The action takes place in the palace of the Count Almaviva, near Seville, and revolves around the actions of the Countess Rosina, who plots – with her servant Susanna – to ensure that her philandering husband gets his just deserts. Susanna – who is betrothed to the Count’s valet, Figaro – is one of the objects of the Count’s desire, which implicates Figaro as well, while the physician, Doctor Bartholo – who himself wanted to marry Rosina – also has a reason to seek revenge on the Count.
Bass-baritone Božidar Smiljanić is rapidly gaining recognition as an international a singer of quality – in both opera and recital. He made his debut at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 2014 as Captain in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, returning in the role of Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni on the Glyndebourne Tour. Described by Bachtrack as “mesmerising” and “moving” in a CBSO presentation of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast last April, Mr Smiljanić has made his debut at several major companies in the United Kingdom – as Haly in Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington Opera, and Schaunard in Puccini’s La Bohème at Scottish Opera. As an ENO Harewood Artist, he’s also appeared as Schaunard, and as the Marquis in Verdi’s La Traviata.
Soprano Louise Alder makes her debut for English National Opera as Susanna in this production of The Marriage of Figaro. The Arts Desk describes her as “the brightest lyric soprano of the younger generation”, and Gramophone Magazine writes of her “voice of sparkling beauty”. Other highlights of Ms Alder’s 2019-20 season include her debut at The Royal Opera House as Zerlina in Don Giovanni, at San Francisco Opera in the title role in Handel’s Partenope, and returns to Bavarian State Opera as Marzelline in Beethoven’s Fidelio, and Glyndebourne Festival Opera as Anne Trulove in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.
In this production, baritone Johnathan McCullough makes his UK and West End debut in the role of Il Conte, following this with company and role debuts as Faber in Tippett’s The Knot Garden at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Mr McCullough took First Prize in the 2019 Gerda Lissner Foundation Song competition with Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and will perform both Lieder and song in concert with Renée Fleming at the Weill Institute Song Studio at Carniegie Hall.
Soprano Elizabeth Watts has appeared with The Royal Opera, Welsh National Opera and Glyndebourne Touring Opera. Her roles include those of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Marzelline in Fidelio, the Countess and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro for The Royal Opera; Pamina in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte for Welsh National Opera, Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Almirena in Handel’s Rinaldo for Glyndebourne Touring Opera.
Also in the cast are Nardus Williams (the Countess – 18th April), Hanna Hipp (Cherubino), Susan Bickley (Marcellina), Yvonne Howard (Marcellina – 14th, 16th and 18th April), Andrew Shore (Dr Bartolo), Rowan Pierce (Barbarina), Colin Judson (Don Basilio/Don Curzio) and Clive Bayley (Antonio).
British theatre and opera director, Joe Hill-Gibbins, makes his main stage debut in this production of The Marriage of Figaro. For his first professional production in 2002, he won the James Menzies-Kitchen Young Director Award, and between 2000 and 2013 he worked for the Royal Court Theatre and at the Young Vic Theatre. Productions at the Young Vic included A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure, The Changeling and The Glass Menagerie, where he became Deputy Artistic Director. In 2014 he directed his first opera, Powder Her Face, for English National Opera, and in 2018 his first German language theatre production, Mary Page Marlowe, for Theater Basel.
Kevin John Edusei, Chief Conductor of the Münchner Symphoniker, makes his debut with ENO this evening. He was formerly Chief Conductor at Bern Opera House, where he led performances of Britten’s Peter Grimes, Richard Strauss’ Salome and Ariadne auf Naxos, Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Janáček’s Kátya Kábanová, Mozart’s da Ponte Operas and Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Performances this season include Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni at Volksoper Wien and Komische Oper Berlin, and his debut performance in Puccini’s Tosca at Hannover State Opera.
English National Opera presents Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of The Marriage of Figaro at the London Coliseum from 14th March to 18th April. For further information and tickets visit the English National Opera website.
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