16 February 2014

Kiss me, Figaro! at Riverside Studios

Last year's production of The Magic Flute (a story around the opera, not the actual opera) by Merry Opera was enough to convince me to see their new show Kiss Me, Figaro! when it came to the Riverside Studios.

How right I was to do so.

Kiss Me, Figaro! uses the clever device of telling the story of a travelling opera company to include songs from their performances, songs from their rehearsals and songs they sung when being themselves. So, for example, we had a beautifully staged except from The Elixir of Love (everything was sung in English), an awkward rehearsal of Your Tiny Hand is Frozen (from La Boheme) and a raucous rendition of Irving Berlin's I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket.

Kiss Me, Figaro! calls itself a romcom, and that is fair. The amount of music, mostly but not all from operas, makes it a musical, of sorts. While it may be hard to classify it is easy to enjoy.

The romantic protagonists are the leading soprano (Daisy Brown) and tenor (Joe Morgan). These are also the actors real names which suggests the possibility of there being some truth in the story. They had been together and then he left her for another woman, just as she was having the final fitting for her wedding dress. He also left the company. An accident brings Joe back and having split from the other woman he is keen to get back with Daisy, but she does not want to so pretends that she is interested in the baritone George, played by James Harrison. Meanwhile one of the other singers has her eyes on Joe.

There are some other things going on with the cast and the company, including the comedic high-point just after the interval when they experiment (briefly) with a new thematic style which involved them singing Three Little Maids from School are We, from The Mikado, in outrageous costumes. That scene alone is worth going to see the show for.

There is just so much to like, and nothing to hate, about the production.

The large cast, eleven I think, all sang beautifully. I am used to shows like this having a few good voices and a few weaker ones but I think that this is the best overall singing that I have heard.

The two leads were magnificent and I'll also single out (possibly unfairly) James Harrison and that is partially because I saw him play the completely different role of a member of the Stasi in Tosca last year and he was very good in that too.

The acting was excellent too and everybody was always busy doing something. I'll highlight soprano Jenny Stafford, Daisy's understudy in the company, here for the faces she pulled behind Daisy's back and the way that she reacted to Joe's return by opening her blouse more at the top and leaning back seductively. This was echoed later in the performance from The Elixir of Love where Daisy was brilliantly over the top in trying to attract Nemorino's attention when he has stopped chasing her briefly because he thinks that the elixir will win her affection tomorrow.

The selection of songs was wonderful and, given the scenario, entirely appropriate. I even liked the mash-up of Pearl Fishers and the Flower Duet from Lakme which they sang at a gala.

Kiss me, Figaro! was highly accomplished in all areas and immensely entertaining in a way that would appeal to any lover of opera, musicals or theatre. It was a joy from start to finish.

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