Figaro and Susanna © ROH, photo by Clive Barda

I’m an opera critic. I’m not there to enjoy myself. So I always feel a little fraudulent when a trip to the opera presents an evening of pure pleasure.

David McVicar’s 2006 staging of Figaro, the opera’s 1786 setting transposed to a country house in 1830, is characterised by light and warmth. Sunlight shines through designer Tanya McCullin’s French windows, moonlight shines in the garden scene, echoing the human warmth the characters have for each other.

From the overture which teemed with a plethora of people cleaning, tidying, and affectionately teasing Figaro, there was a feeling that we’re in Downtown Abbey, with a cast of domestics, all very fetching in their big sleeves and white aprons, actively engaged in watching the antics of their social superiors and quietly cheering the valet on.

The principals so obviously liked each other. Kind, sensible Susanna, tiny, linnet-like Giulia Semenzato, with her pure, focused soprano, is patently in love with Riccardo Fassi’s very attractive Figaro, even if she realises how much smarter she is. She sings ‘Deh, vieni, non tardar’ to the man in her heart, not the one in front of her. Federica Lombardi’s dignified Countess, a woman still hopelessly in love with her awful husband, brings heart-wrenching longing to ‘Dove sono’. The affection between the two women is palpable as they sing their ‘Sull’aria’ duet. Hanna Hipp’s Cherubino and Helen Withers’ Barbarina had just the right amount of gauche charm as they flirted sweetly. And there is real joy in the triple “Io!” to Susanna’s “Chi al par di me contenta?” as Gianluca Buratto’s Bartolo and Monica Bacelli’s embittered Marcellina suddenly see their lives lit up with unhoped-for happiness.

The Count, ably taken at short notice by Germán E. Alcántara , a former Jette Parker Young Artist, was rather less engaging. Superficially alluring and all the more unpleasant for it, this Epstein-like serial abuser’s singing took on a brutal edge in his Act 2 quarrel with his wife, a tone that augurs ill for their future, however lusciously he sings ‘Contessa, perdono’ when found out.

The narrative flow was greatly helped by conductor Antonio Pappano’s unobtrusive and sympathetic fortepiano continuo and a mostly Italian cast singing in their mother tongue, the recitatives eddying limpidly along like tiny brooks. The ROH orchestra were on top form.

A folle journée which made for a very lovely evening.