Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L’inutile precauzione – melodramma buffa in two acts to a libretto by Cesare Sterbini after Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’s comedy Le Barbier de Séville [sung in the English translation by David Parry]
Count Almaviva – Nicholas Sharratt
Figaro – Grant Doyle
Rosina – Kitty Whately
Dr Bartolo – Andrew Slater
Don Basilio – Alan Fairs
Fiorello – Toby Girling
Berta – Cheryl Enever
Ambrogio – Andrew Glover
Officer – Brendan Collins
Notary – Maciek O’Shea
Chorus & Orchestra of English Touring Opera
Thomas Guthrie – Director
Rhys Jarman – Designer
Guy Hoare – Lighting Designer
Reviewed by: Mark Valencia
Reviewed: 13 April, 2012
Venue: Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
What larks! English Touring Opera has served up a delectable treat for its Spring tour: a joyous staging of Rossini’s evergreen favourite, played with elegant refinement by a small, supple orchestra under Paul McGrath and well characterised by its talented young cast. Musical felicities abound, foremost among them the radiantly sung (and wittily acted) Rosina of Kitty Whately, winner of the 2011 Kathleen Ferrier Award. Curiously, I don’t recall much chatter about the enchanting young mezzo when ETO’s production opened at the Hackney Empire in mid-March, but a month down the line in the rarefied setting of Snape Maltings this star of the future was ‘rockin’ the stadium’.
As Count Almaviva, the heroine’s suitor-in-disguise, Nicholas Sharratt matches his leading lady for style and lightness of touch even though his vibrato whirs rather quickly and his tone lacks weight. Grant Doyle, who plays Figaro, the eponymous Barber of Seville, has charismatic authority and an irresistible twinkle in his eye, but he sounded effortful in the upper register of his baritone range. In a role that cries out for easy delivery, Doyle’s voice was in need of his character’s tonsorial ministrations: it lacked body and was a bit thin on top.
The production boasts a deliciously baleful, booming Don Basilio in Alan Fairs, and the ever-dependable Andrew Slater has a ball as the irascible buffo villain, Dr Bartolo; making gymnastic mincemeat of David Parry’s inferior translation during his patter splutterings. Unfortunately for the singers there is a strong sense of ‘that’ll do’ about Parry’s lyrics: not only does he use a welter of lazy filler words like ‘just’ (“just be quiet, just be careful”), the clumsiness of his word choice is magnified by the necessary repetition of lines like “a hundred tricks/of female artifice”, a couplet that lumbers Rosina with endless reiterations of the singer-unfriendly word ‘tricks’.
Rhys Jarman, the designer, provides a visual vocabulary of scrim and silhouettes that effectively complements the soufflé-like atmosphere of director Thomas Guthrie’s sprightly, economical staging. While the production is rich in wit and ideas, though, it would have benefited from a greater emphasis on the Chorus of Police. Rossini’s constables have a meagre evening, their comic potential barely exploited as they lurk stranded and unloved in the dimly-lit upstage reaches. However, such reservations are small details in an evening dominated by comical, visual and musical delights, and the opera – which can drag in a substandard performance – zips along like a breeze.
ETO’s tour continues at venues around England until the end of May, and this sprightly Barber is well worth seeking out, for it is a well-groomed cut above the norm. Here sir, take a seat.