Opera Scotland

Cherubino hiding when the Count arrives

Marriage of Figaro in Scotland

Posted 25 Oct 2016

The Marriage of Figaro received its first performance in Scotland on 30 July 1819 at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh. Singers from London including Catherine Stephens (Susanna) were engaged to perform for a season. Whether we would today entirely recognise the opera may be debated as the playbill describes it thus:”the Music chiefly selected from Mozart’s Operas, and adapted to the British Stage by Mr Bishop”.

Marriage of Figaro was later performed on 22 June 1824, again at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh. The undoubted star of the show was the Susanna, the soprano Mary Ann Paton. Edinburgh-born, and still only twenty-one, Paton was one of the leading performers in the London opera companies. Within a couple of years she created the highly-demanding leading role of Rezia in Weber’s Oberon.

When the company of the great Italian buffo baritone Giuseppe de Begnis, creator of Dandini in Rossini’s Cenerentola in Rome in 1817, came to Scotland in 1832, his role was that of Figaro. Almost as interesting is the casting of the Count. The great tenor Domenico Donzelli had been the first Pollione in Norma at La Scala two years earlier. But his vocal tone seems to have been quite dark for a tenor, and he also sang some baritone parts – on this visit both Count Almaviva and Don Giovanni.

Throughout the nineteenth century, Mozart was recognized as a genius, but his operas were not performed frequently. One cast of Figaro is worth noting however, when a company from Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, the Royal Italian Opera, visited Glasgow in 1874. The three leading ladies were internationally renowned. Countess Almaviva was the great German dramatic soprano Therese Tietjens. Susanna was Marie-Roze, and Zélia Trebelli-Bettini, another Frenchwoman, played Cherubino. She was a particularly famous Carmen, introducing the role to the New York Met in 1884. One Carl Rosa cast a decade later featured Marie Roze again, this time as Cherubino.

Marriage of Figaro was now gradually gaining popularity. Performances in the early decades of the twentieth century were given in the four major cities by several companies, Carl Rosa, Moody-Manners and British National among them. The 1953 Edinburgh International Festival visit by the Covent Garden Opera featured Geraint Evans (Figaro) and Joan Sutherland (Countess).

The annual tours by Sadler’s Wells Opera from the mid-fifties were particularly notable. The 1958 tour was one of many featuring Figaro, with the opera conducted by a young Alexander Gibson in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.

The Edinburgh International Festival began in 1947, with opera provided by Glyndebourne. Figaro was staged by Carl Ebert in that first season. John Brownlee and Eleanor Steber were Count and Countess, Italo Tajo and Tatiana Menotti were Figaro and Susanna, with Giulietta Simionato and Owen Brannigan as Cherubino and Bartolo. This production was revived in later years. The Festival staged its own production in 1975 and ’76. Daniel Barenboim conducted, the Sir Geraint Evans, the Figaro, directing as well. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Heather Harper were the Almavivas, with Teresa Berganza as Cherubino. Two Scottish Opera regulars, Bill McCue and John Robertson, sang Bartolo and Curzio, with the whole enterprise being recorded. The Glyndebourne touring company brought Graham Vick’s production to Glasgow in 2005, with a rare local appearance by Iain Paterson as Figaro.

Scottish Opera first staged the work in 1968, with Anthony Besch directing in designs by John Stoddart. Alexander Gibson conducted a cast led by Catherine Wilson and Peter van der Bilt (the Almavivas), Michael Maurel (Figaro), Catherine Gayer (Susanna) and Patricia Hay (Cherubino). This staging was revived in 1972, with Stafford Dean as Figaro and Patricia Hay now singing Susanna.

The company’s second production, by theatre director Toby Robertson, opened in 1977 with Linda Esther Gray and Malcolm Donnelly as Count and Countess, Gordon Sandison and Patricia Hay as Figaro and Susanna. The 1980 revival included Margaret Marshall (Countess), Håkan Hagegård (Count), Richard Van Allan (Figaro) and Marie McLaughlin in her debut as Susanna. The third production, by John Cox, designed by the playwright/artist John Byrne, had another great Scottish soprano, Isobel Buchanan as Susanna, joining Margaret Marshall. David Leveaux’ modern-dress staging began with Claire Rutter and Stephen Gadd as the Almavivas, Lisa Milne and Paul Whelan as Susanna and Figaro. In the 1999 revival, Whelan sang the Count, with Christopher Purves as Figaro and Alice Coote Cherubino.

 Sir Thomas Allen’s current staging, opening in 2010, was conducted by Francesco Corti, and featured Kate Valentine (Countess), Roderick Kennedy (Count), Thomas Oliemans in the title role and Nadine Livingstone as Susanna.

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