Hampstead Garden Opera's Figaro 'is a cracker' ****

Photographs of live dress rehearsal, yellow cast, Thursday 04th November 2011, of Motzart's Le nozze

Le Nozze di Figaro, at Jacksons Lane Highgate - Credit: LaurentCompagnon

A packed house at newly refurbished Jacksons Lane relished Hampstead Garden Opera's boisterous production of Mozart's classic opera Le Nozze di Figaro.

At more than three hours long, it can be a bit of a haul, but the time ripped past thanks to inspired performances by HGO's talented young singers.

As with many 18th century operas, the complexity of the plot is on a par with EastEnders – infatuations, assignations and misinterpretations - but a helpful programme guides the uninitiated through the machinations. In HGO's 'retelling,' Count Almaviva’s estate is clinging to its former glory, in denial that the First World War is on its doorstep.

Photographs of live dress rehearsal, yellow cast, Thursday 04th November 2011, of Motzart's Le nozze

Hampstead Garden Opera's The Marriage of Figaro - Credit: LaurentCompagnon

There are alternating casts but on our night Figaro was the excellent James Gribble and his paramour Susanna played with confidence and joie-de-vie by Anna-Luise Wagner.

As Cherubino, Esme Bronwen-Smith brought a robust physicality to her portrayal of a young lad in full hormone rush, while at the other end of the age range Peter Edge’s Count Almaviva conclusively proved there is no fool like and old fool as he roared around the stage in his mobile opium den, chasing anyone who caught his eye.

Deborah Holborn's Marcelina is pure pantomime dame, but it was Rusne Tuslaite as the Contessa who stunned the audience at the start of the second act with her effortless soprano and understated stage presence in the aria Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro.

Director Julia Mintzer encourages her cast to milk the piece's comic potential, although I didn't feel that pushing WWI parallels quite worked with such a lighthearted romp. With a stripped down versatile set, and on stage chamber orchestra, it was Mozart's timeless music and fabulous performances that compelled.

Until November 14.