Review: York Opera in The Marriage Of Figaro, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, May 9. Further performances at 7.15pm tonight (May 10) and 4pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or at

IF I were choosing an opera for my first outing as a director, The Marriage Of Figaro would not be on my list of possibles. Comedy relies on teamwork and timing; neither is easy to teach. So it was brave, not to say adventurous, of James Wood to take it on, while also shouldering the burden of designing the set.

But fortune favours the brave; Wood has come through with considerable success. He opts for a traditional scenario: his flexible set gives us a grand country house, with large central door between long windows, although the garden it overlooks is devoid of flowers (a key feature in Cherubino’s escape - the indoor flower stands are lovely). Maggie Soper’s excellent period costumes, topped by some ornate wigs, do the rest.

The real card up this production’s sleeve is its orchestra under Alasdair Jamieson. In a cleverly cut-down version of the score (uncredited), his band of 15 play their hearts out, none more so than Janus Wadsworth, whose tireless horn seemingly takes in the trumpet parts as well. Jamieson’s tempos are lively and he hold things together with customary brilliance.

Benjamin Noble makes a very genuine Figaro, more Likely Lad than puppeteer; a touch more guile would not hurt. His baritone holds steady under fire. Annabel van Griethuysen offers a feisty Susanna, full of fun. Her butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth reaction to being discovered behind the Countess’s door is priceless.

The Countess herself is in the assured hands of Heather Watts, whose second aria is especially succulent. Her Count is the equally experienced Ian Thomson-Smith, maintaining his dignity with apt difficulty. Elizabeth Vile’s soprano is too feminine for Cherubino, but she is pleasingly energetic. Rebecca Smith’s marvellously over-the-top Marcellina, Hamish Brown’s foppish Basilio and Clive Marshall’s bucolic Antonio all add to the gaiety. Samantha Locker-Lampson is very promising as Barbarina.

The final unveiling of disguises needs tightening up. The Jeremy Sams translation is wittily projected, however, in a hugely heart-warming evening in York Opera’s best tradition.

Martin Dreyer