Clubbers: Jamie and Carolyn Balfour, Robert and Fiona Boyle, Tom and Sarah Floyd, Christopher and Frances Kemball
There’s a faint sound of piano playing somewhere in The Royal College of Music where we meet Martin Lloyd- Evans and Tim Reed – Figaro’s director and designer – we’ve already seen their wonderful shows at the Festival and they’ve worked on several different productions of Figaro for different companies.
Tim comes across as quieter and more measured than Martin whose enthusiasm for what they are creating simply pours out of him. Michael Chance is with us and you can feel the musicality and empathy the three of them share with Mozart and his Figaro before we even start.
We’re facing the Model Box which lies at the heart of the production as the box represents the stage. Carolyn is sandwiched between me and Sarah with our husbands behind us, sitting with the two Michaels. The other Michael is Michael Moody who is Mr Fix It on the practical front for all Festival productions, and a vital member of the production team.
The secret behind the magic lies with this particular box as it’s used to work out the action and sets. What happens inside it is so secret that we’re not able to photograph what we see or divulge what’s going on. But what I can tell you now is this: You’re going to see something remarkable and I’m thrilled to be in on it from the off.
The box is a fiddly and intricate part of the production process. Tim explained that every art form responds to space differently. Working on a computer, for instance, doesn’t give the extra spatial dimension that allows music to breathe. Lighting is crucial too, as it’s the closest thing we have on stage to the music because the effect of a lighting cue works subliminally. As it happens, Michael has managed to engage Peter Mumford (look him up – he’s amazing!) for every opera this season.
Tim made the box which is about the size of a doll’s house, without the roof and façade. It’s painted black inside and out but lit from within. He acts like a puppeteer pulling strings from above that are attached to the backdrops so he can move them at scene changes. He’s also made dolls’ house size furniture and crafted each character about an inch high with their costume painted on. Martin and Tim spend hours discussing what’s going to work by moving each piece and character by hand so that the setting and action not only enhances the narrative, but also the music so we get that elusive visceral frisson that send shivers down your back.
Sarah asks what inspired this particular production – revealing this would be a spoiler – but Martin says,
“People have an idea of how a production is supposed to be done but the very act of putting something on stage is an act of interpretation. We want to make a piece vibrant without being wilfully novel, to open people up to Mozart’s fantastically subtle piece of music with its brilliantly complex human story.”
“Opera is a sensual experience, the music takes place in the soul that nothing else can reach. To me, the cleverness of a director is to remain invisible and is not something to be paraded on stage. The gold standard is to respect your audience and understand what they actually experience. In opera they experience the words and the way the words are set to music, so if it’s in the libretto you tend to it, you use it, you respond to it. Anything else is our interpretation.”
Martin goes on to explain more about how the production works, and the detail it requires is astonishing. Before we leave for the dinner that Tom is hosting at Boodles, Tim shows me his costume designs and the wonderful material he’s found to make them, so once again I’m struck by the profound knowledge of Mozart’s Figaro that Martin, Michael and Tim share.
*Just realised I should have written we met at the Royal Academy of Music, housed in a vast Edwardian building off the Marylebone Road in London. I’ve since discovered the Academy was founded in 1822, given a royal charter eight years later, and is the oldest conservatoire in the UK.*