Introducing... Figaro: a marriage of voices

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As part of our Introducing Festival 2016 series, Steven Naylor, our Director of Artistic Administration, reveals the secrets of casting a perfect Figaro to Warwick Thompson.

‘Tragedy tomorrow – comedy tonight!’ goes the famous refrain. But Stephen Sondheim clearly hadn’t seen the audacious programme for next year’s Festival when he penned it. For during the 2016 season, tragedy is pretty much banished and comedies are playing tonight, tomorrow, and all nights thereafter. The motley will be appearing in all possible shapes and sizes, from the knockabout fun of Il barbiere di Siviglia and sophistication of Béatrice et Bénédict, through the more searching profundities The Cunning Little Vixen and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, to the intoxication of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And to cap it all, Michael Grandage’s magical 2012 production of Le nozze di Figaro also makes a welcome return, with an unmissable team of dazzling young singers to make it spark. Two of them have previously performed with the company: Gyula Orendt (Count Almaviva) sang Nardo in La finta giardiniera, and Rosa Feola (Susanna) was Sandrina in the same opera on Tour last year. The others are making their Glyndebourne stage debuts. South African soprano Golda Schultz, who has recently had an enormous success as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier in Salzburg, will sing the Countess, and Italian baritone Davide Luciano is Figaro.

Gyula Orendt in La finta giardiniera, Festival 2014. Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

In a season composed of comedies, it’s vital that there’s variety and difference between them. In the same way, an opera with two youthful baritone-soprano couplings demands vocal and dramatic contrasts amongst the principals. I asked Glyndebourne’s Director of Artistic Administration Steven Naylor, who is in charge of casting, how he achieves this. ‘We booked Gyula first, because he made such a strong impression in his audition,’ he says. ‘He’s a fine, commanding actor, capable of quicksilver flashes of anger and jealousy – as soon as he makes his first entrance, he’ll stand out with aristocratic authority. And then, we had to find a Figaro to complement him, we were looking for someone with tremendous wit and panache, but perhaps a darker voice.’

How does one find such a singer? ‘In this case, our casting consultant Pål Moe had heard Davide in a competition, and he immediately rang me about him. We set up an audition, and were hugely impressed with his tonal variety, and his charm – which were just the qualities we were after. Figaro is a plotter and a schemer, but he needs to win the audience over, and Davide will do that wonderfully.’

Rosa Feola in La finta giardiniera, Tour 2014. Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

And the women? ‘We were looking for a Susanna with sparkle and bags of personality, but also with the poise and vocal control for Deh vieni in Act IV. Rosa [who has recently triumphed as Elvira in I puritani at the Welsh National Opera] was perfect. Then, having her in place, we were looking for someone with complementary qualities for the Countess: a singer with all the necessary elegance and dignity, and who can convey silent suffering. I knew that Golda would be ideal. She has this tremendous elasticity in her voice, and wonderful poise… Given the size of our auditorium, and how close the audience is, it’s vital to create the right energy on stage. It’s a comedy about four young people… and I’m enormously happy that we’ve got the right quartet.’

You can find full details of Le nozze di Figaro here.

If you’d like to see the new scintillating quartet of singers on stage in Le nozze di Figaro or any of the other Festival 2016 productions, don’t miss our public booking opening on Monday 7 March 2016.