The Marriage of Figaro

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

15/05/2010 - 22/05/2010

Aotea Centre at THE EDGE®, Auckland

03/06/2010 - 13/06/2010

Production Details

Marriage triumphs, on and off stage 

In a case of Life imitating Art, real-life couple Wade Kernot and Emma Pearson take to the stage in the roles of the put-upon valet Figaro and his irresistible fiancée Susanna in The NBR New Zealand Opera’s forthcoming production of The Marriage of Figaro

New Zealander Wade Kernot and Australian Emma Pearson, who are currently based in Germany, are naturally delighted with the casting. “Not many singers are able to bring their support team onstage with them,” says Wade. “Figaro is by far my biggest professional role to date, so having Emma alongside me is fantastic, plus it’s for the home team which is an added bonus,” he says. 
The couple met when Emma was cast in The NBR New Zealand Opera’s 2004 production of Carmen. Wade was a PwC Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artist with the Company and was understudying Zuniga so was required at all rehearsals… three years later they married. 
Wade comes from a musical, West Auckland family but he discovered opera at Waitakere College. “I had always performed in musicals and barbershop groups,” he says, “but in 1997 *Opera New Zealand’s Outreach Programme visited with a course offering me three days off school with my singing mates. I was always the big, loud kid up the back of the choir and thought that maybe I should give opera a go.” 
Wade’s “Westie” background is something he will always be glad of. “I think the great thing about not having an élitist background is that when exposed to things like opera, sometimes, without the preconceived ideas, they can be seen in their simplest form. Opera is just simple storytelling. It needs good, practical skills. Too much intellectualising just gets in the way. People think opera is high-brow but opera singers are usually found backstage drinking a cup of tea from a polystyrene cup with a tea towel bib to save the costume.” 
Joining Wade and Emma is an excellent line-up of New Zealand and international opera singers including, in the role of the Countess, one of the biggest names in opera circles today – Italian soprano Nuccia Focile. Renowned for her interpretation of Mozart’s heroines, Nuccia Focile is a consummate performer who regularly performs at the great opera houses of the world with a “who’s who” of illustrious singers and conductors. And while her husband, acclaimed tenor Paul Charles Clarke, will not be joining her on stage for this production, they did meet and fall in love while singing Nannetta and Fenton in Verdi’s Falstaff
The Marriage of Figaro 
Wellington – St James Theatre
Sat 15, Thu 20, Sat 22 May (7.30pm), Tue 18 May (6pm)
Auckland – Aotea Centre, THE EDGE
Thu 3, Sat 5, Wed 9, Fri 11 June (7.30pm), Sun 13 June (2.30pm)
Single Ticket Prices $49.50 to $187.50.
Concessions available for senior citizens, students and group bookings.
Service fees apply.
Bookings: The NBR NZ Opera Box Office, Tel (09) 379 4068 or (04) 499 8343, or:
Wellington: Ticketek, Tel 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538) or
Auckland: The Edge, Tel 0800 BUYTICKETS (0800 289 842) or
Further information at

The NBR New Zealand Opera receives core funding from Creative New Zealand

* Opera New Zealand and the National Opera of Wellington merged in 2000 to become The NBR New Zealand Opera.

Set Designer – Robin Rawstorne
Costume Designer – Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting Designer – David Eversfield
Figaro – Wade Kernot
Susanna – Emma Pearson
Count Almaviva – Riccardo Novaro
Countess Almaviva – Nuccia Focile
Cherubino – Wendy Dawn Thompson
Doctor Bartolo – Gennadi Dubinsky
Marcellina – Helen Medlyn
Don Basilio – Richard Greager
Antonio – Richard Green
Don Curzio – Derek Hill+
Barbarina – Alexandra Ioan*
With the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus
Accompanied by the Vector Wellington Orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
* PwC Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artist
+ NBR New Zealand Opera Resident Artist

Engrossing night of theatre makes the Marriage of Figaro unmissable

Review by William Dart 05th Jun 2010

Clever direction and a consistent cast show Mozart’s 1786 success is an opera for all times

NBR New Zealand Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro is as engrossing a night of theatre as one could wish for, thanks to the astute directorial hand of Aidan Lang. The company’s last Figaro, eight years ago, was a frenetic fashionista farce; this time round, it is more keenly honed to Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte’s original conception.

Robin Rawstorne’s daunting grid wall looms over us as Lionel Friend whirls the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra through a sparkling overture, hinting that we are in for an evening of comedy with serious intent. Ingeniously, once the grid opens, many of the opera’s intrigues are presented in various sections of the stage, giving it a split-screen, cinematic flow, perfect for catching the enveloping chaos of this day of madness. [More]
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Aidan Lang, take a bow! This is what opera is meant to be.

Review by Sharon Talbot 17th May 2010

Clarity, intensity and stillness – not what you usually associate with the mad day of Figaro’s wedding? No indeed, but this is not your common or garden Figaro.

The usual laughter, slapstick, sexy romps and lively music are all there in buckets, in NBR New Zealand Opera’s wonderful new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. But my lingering memories of the production are of single, almost still singers commanding the stage through the sheer emotional intensity of focussed soft singing.

Most of all, my overall impression is of clarity – of the clear, revealing light on the clean, expressive set; of the clarity of the music cuing the singers’ reactions and moves; and of the clear intelligence guiding this fully integrated production.

Aidan Lang, take a bow! This is what opera is meant to be.

At first sight, the oppressive height of the set’s walls towering over the singers in small, smoothly changing rooms immediately shows how all the people in the story are boxed in by the rigid hierarchy of their world aristocrat and peasant alike. This is an interesting twist on the repute of Beaumarchais’ source play as “the prologue to the French revolution”, due to its caustic satire of unearned aristocratic privilege and the ease of their servants to outwit them. Here, it seems both sides of the class war are trapped by it (although, of course, the male aristo has enormous power over the lives of his underlings, from casually kicking them to relieve a temper tantrum to controlling who they marry).

The story of The Marriage of Figaro centres around the efforts of the valet Figaro and his betrothed, Susanna, to marry, without their master the Count claiming through seduction his recently abnegated feudal right to the bride on her wedding night. Susanna is maid to the Countess Rosina who, equally determined to frustrate her husband, schemes with Susanna to catch him out in his philandering.

Complications are piled on by the oversexed teenage pageboy, Cherubino, who is always turning up in the wrong place, an angry gardener and his ditsy daughter, and especially the Count’s support of a plot to force Figaro, through a debt, to marry Marcellina, the middle-aged housekeeper of the Countess’ former guardian Dr Bartolo. He in turn wants revenge on Figaro for previously facilitating the marriage of Rosina to the Count instead of himself. However, the lead plotters turn out to be Figaro’s long-lost parents, so the afternoon ends with a double wedding.

The evening sees a series of attempted seductions and mistaken identities in the garden as the Countess and Susanna, disguised as each other, trick their menfolk. It all ends when the Count is literally brought to his knees to beg forgiveness of his Countess, while Figaro is reunited with his ever-faithful Susanna.

In the early scenes of Aiden Lang’s production, the white walls and bright side lighting on almost still figures of servants at work immediately brings Vermeer’s paintings to mind. This cool light is definitely not the hot sun of southern Seville, the ostensible setting of the story. Yet the grandeur of the set and the aristocrats’ formal black dress makes the place definitely Spain rather than the Netherlands. (Perhaps it is the cold, upland light of Velazquez’ Madrid, where rigid protocol was king.)

But the true brilliance of Robin Rawstorne’s set design and David Eversfield’s lighting is the way they gradually change as the people they dominate are spun out of their usual orbits by the accelerating madness of the day. The set in the early scenes is all straight lines and right angles, dominated by high wooden doors and strong shadows. Then, as the status quo starts to unravel, the curves appear, first as a high circular window, which then grows into elongated ovals cutting through the walls to allow in increasingly warmer light. This culminates in Act IV with sweeping white curves of a sculptural garden where the moonlight is golden and nary a straight line can be seen… and the warmth of love conquers all.

Elizabeth Whiting’s subtle, almost sculptural costumes enhance this evolution. At the start they are all cool blues and whites: the lower servants in their (well-publicised) worn-denim work clothes and the aristocrats in effortfully laundered pure white with touches of silken blue. When the peasants are let in to the wedding feast, their party clothes introduce highlights of Seville orange, while the Count and Countess are constrained into superb formal black silk and lacquered wigs. Finally, when the Countess is disguised in Susanna’s warm-toned wedding dress, she is empowered to break from her aristocratic bonds to grasp what she wants – her straying husband, back in her arms and suitably contrite.

Curiously, the performances of the singers on opening night followed a similar progression to the design, warming and relaxing with the light, costumes and set. This seems somewhat over-egging the pudding to be deliberate, and was most likely due to first night nerves (unless they were subconsciously responding to their physical surroundings on stage?).

Certainly Australian Emma Pearson’s Susanna, while accomplished, was undistinguished in her first scenes but bloomed into an engaging schemer as she set out to lure the Count to his comeuppance. When she discovered Figaro’s parentage, her successive “Sua madre?” phases were beautifully graded to show her confusion becoming astonishment and then delight. And her movements, as she bounced around the group, were perfectly cued by the music. Pearson crowned her performance with a very beautiful rendering of Susanna’s Act IV aria ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ (Come, do not tarry beloved). Her flawless line and subtle phrasing here were show-stopping.

Aucklander Wade Kernot’s Figaro followed a similar arch of development, although perhaps without reaching the same heights as his bride. His voice was as warm and expansive as his physical presence (although he struggled for cut in Figaro’s bass phrases). Kernot’s Figaro is less the clever puppeteer and more the well-meaning nice guy with quick footwork. He was at his best in his comfortably physical relationship with Susanna (no doubt helped by the singers’ off-stage marriage), his harassed puzzlement during the shenanigans in the Countess’ bedroom, and the bashful delight of his reunion with his long-lost parents. (The tum-bump with his putative father amusingly highlighted their likely relationship while acknowledging their common rotund forms!) His aria ranting against the faithlessness of wives in Act IV (‘Aprite un po’ quel’occhi’), when he thought Susanna unfaithful, was powerfully delivered with plenty of anger and hurt.

Wellington’s own Wendy Dawn Thompson, returned from London to sing the pageboy Cherubino, drew attention from her first moment on stage. This role is often played extravagantly to show the boy’s over-flowing hormones. Instead, Thompson used quivering stillness to portray Cherubino’s intense confusion and poured out his compressed emotions through her voice in her first aria, ‘Non so piu’ (Is it pain I feel or pleasure?). Her vocal line in this and ‘Voi che sapete’ was always effortless, despite the agitated music, and her silvery tone was lovely. Physically, Thompson was a convincing boy and she made the most of her comic moments without overdoing Cherubino’s puppy-like eagerness.

Surprisingly, the long-awaited return to Wellington of Italian Nuccia Focile started a little shakily in her singing of the Countess’ famous lament aria ‘Porgi amor’ (God of love). However, her passionate singing of the later aria ‘Dove sono i bei momenti’ (Where are the lovely moments?) brought the house down. Great singing actress that she is, Focile was able to show that the sparkling, sexy Rosina is still within the Countess even though saddened by her straying husband and constrained by the dignity her position.

Dress and undress, in the formal 18th century sense, is used cleverly by Lang to subtly point how the Count and Countess reveal their true selves when they are ‘undressed’ in their private apartments and in disguise, but show only their aristocratic manners when in formal dress. While the Countess is all frothy white lace and curls in her bedroom, she is rigidly corseted, panniered and be-wigged into conventionality in the ceremonial public scenes. When in her bedroom, the couple make up their first on-stage quarrel by ripping off their clothes and jumping into bed together, while during the formal wedding dance they barely touch hands.

This public/private contrast was clearest in the Count, fascinatingly performed by Italian Ricardo Novaro. The range of expression and comedy he brought to this often cypher-like role was remarkable, and mainly created by clever use of his agile body. As the lascivious pursuer of Susanna, he was all hands and spread knees. As the frustrated despot in his Act III aria ‘Vedro mentr’io sospiro’ (Must I forgo my pleasure to make a servant happy?), his rich, flexible voice fired his anger, to bounce off the walls like a frustrated child in a tantrum, finally sating himself by kicking one of the humble, Millet-like servant women polishing the floor. By contrast, his appearances in the public rooms show him commanding the servants with sweeping gestures and the stillness of absolute authority. Then, when in disguise in the garden, he uses a wide cape and his long thin legs to turn into a swooping, bat-like comic-book Zorro (ripe for a close embrace with Madame Guillotine, that one)!

Clothing, and how it both disguises and reveals, is central to the plot of Figaro, and Aiden Lang’s ever-insightful direction emphasises this. The various warring factions play tug-of-war with bits of clothing, like Cherubino and his adored Countess with her blue satin ribbon, and the very unmarried Marcellina fighting over a pretend bridal veil with her rival bride Susanna.

Vivacious as ever, Aucklander Helen Medlyn clearly relished this role of Marcellina. Her catty duet with Susanna, which included the bridal tug-of-war, was the first highlight of the show. Her switch from Figaro’s spurned bride to his loving mother was a convincing mix of horror and delight.

Gennadi Dubinsky gave Dr Bartolo a solid, almost bumbling presence. The evergreen Richard Greager made a wonderfully slimy Don Basilio and sang superbly as ever. (Why do we not see/hear more of him since he now lives in NZ?)

Another Aucklander, Richard Green, as the leather-clad gardener, brought an almost menacing presence to his pursuit of the flower-pot breaker, making Antonio a more dignified figure than the usual drunken fool.

Derek Hill’s Don Curzio also had more gravitas than usual as he didn’t have the traditional stutter. A very pregnant Barbarina was charmingly played by Romanian Alexandra Ioan, who has an exceptional voice – a young singer to watch.

While they have little to sing in this opera, the Chapman Tripp Chorus made their presence felt throughout the show as hard-working servants and high-kicking peasants. Lang did not use them simply to dress the set. Sometimes they underlined the action, such as the cook sharpening the meat cleaver during Bartolo’s ‘La vendetta’ aria. But mostly they were humble yet dignified representatives of the vast underclass that supported the aristos’ lavish lifestyle in pre-revolutionary Europe.

This ensemble cast of singing actors was led by veteran conductor and teacher Lionel Friend, stylishly supported by the Vector Wellington Orchestra. The music is the core of any opera, and Friend truly made it live on the night. A special delight was his insistence on true pianissimos, both from singers and orchestra, which tightened up the emotional intensity of the drama.

Overall, the laurels must go to the guiding light behind both the opera company and this production, Aidan Lang. His use of Mozart’s musical cues to trigger action and character was the joy of this production for me – why improve on genius?!

As the smiling, buzzing audience poured out of the St James theatre on Saturday night, the question uppermost in this reviewer’s mind was: ‘Why has Aiden Lang not directed an opera for his company before??’. Please don’t wait so long before the next time!
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Superb staging of Figaro sets new standards for Mozart opera

Review by John Button 17th May 2010

Having missed the last Marriage of Figaro done by New Zealand Opera in 2002 – and the outside performance during the summer in Eastbourne – it is a while since I have experienced a local production of the opera, but I still suspect that this thought-provoking, and stunningly realised production directed by New Zealand Opera’s general director, Aidan Lang, is a benchmark for Mozart opera in New Zealand.

And it is, primarily, the production, and the extraordinary sets by Robin Rawstorne, that sets this production apart. These startling sets completely change the perception of the drama, highlighting the farcical elements in a more realistic way; reducing suspension of disbelief, as the set manages to run the rooms together, sometimes offering an almost filmic split-screen, then linking the rooms with a door. [More]
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