Opera UK – The Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville – commedia in two acts to a libretto by Cesare Sterbini after the play by Beaumarchais and Petrosellini’s libretto for Paisiello [Sung in an English translation by Simon Butteriss]

Count Almaviva – Patrick Ashcroft
Figaro – Adam Miller
Rosina – Belinda Evans
Dr Bartolo – Martin Lamb
Don Basilio / Musician – John Savournin
Fiorello / Policeman – Alex Poulton
Berta – Katherine Jane Bagshawe
Ambrogio / Policeman / Musician / Notary – Philip Lee
Policeman / Musician – Daniel Norris

The Andrew Bernardi Music Group
Stephen Hose – Music Director & Piano

Jane McCulloch – Director
John Mullis – Chief Executive Opera UK
Eric Standidge – Executive Producer
Robert Knight – Set Design
Michael O’Connor – Costume Adviser

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 6 May, 2009
Venue: Bloomsbury Theatre, London

Since its second performance in 1816 Rossini’s comic-opera “The Barber of Seville” has been a success. Apparently, the first-night audience in Rome did not care for it but by the second night they had ‘got’ it. It reached London two years later and New York the following year, since when it has never been out of the repertoire of most major (and minor) opera houses. Rossini’s delightfully tuneful music, his restraint in the moments of comedy and his pulling together of a silly but also would-be tragic plot in which Count Almaviva’s intended bride is destined to be married to her much older guardian Dr Bartolo, turn what is essentially a farce into a romantic tale laced with elements of fun.

With a very modern translation by Simon Butteriss and a youthful cast of talented singers, Opera UK has managed to overcome the tendency towards archness that some productions instil. Director Jane McCulloch, who last year produced Opera UK’s miraculously light and sunny staging of “Così fan tutte”, here did the same. Her singers also came up with the goods. All the characterisations worked very well, the singing was of a very high order, and the accompanying musicians, piano and string quartet, kept everything well-paced under Stephen Hose’s direction.

The simple set represented the exterior and interior of Dr Bartolo’s house in Seville with a balcony upon which Count Almaviva hoped to serenade his new love, Rosina. The overture set the scene with musicians doing all sorts of stage business, setting up their instruments and ensuring that the comedy got off to a good start. If Patrick Ashcroft’s elegant Count appeared a little on the young side, at least he was the right age to be wooing young Rosina. He also had a good high-ringing tenor voice, another reason for Rosina to be attracted to him rather than her guardian.

In contrast to Almaviva, Figaro was very different. He rode a grocer’s bike and was a dab hand at juggling oranges. He was a big, bluff bloke in Adam Miller’s very positive and clever characterisation and was laid-back and self-assured. His acting and singing combined in a very naturalistic way with his body-language unforced for a comic-opera performance. He managed his “Make way for the factotum of the city” with consummate ease and was a constant delight throughout.

Belinda Evans was a very charming Rosina with a gorgeous voice that managed the runs and trills seemingly with little or no effort. Martin Lamb was the gruff villain Dr Bartolo but displayed a good sense of, and feeling for, the comedic side of his character. Don Basilio, the lawyer, is a sort of Basil Fawlty figure in John Savournin’s saturnine performance, dressed in a lawyer’s gown and with a laptop.

Apart from the good performances and the skilled direction, it was the translation that also gave the production a real lift. The libretto is full of modern argot: “You are persona so non grata”, says one character, and Bartolo is described as an “ugly mean old bastard”. The period was vaguely the 1960s but with some modern additions which did not have any detrimental effect.

  • Opera UK’s The Barber of Seville is playing at the following venues: Alley Theatre, Strabane, 8 May; An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny, 9 May; Arts Centre, Mullingar, 12 May; Derry Playhouse, 13 May; Hawk’s Well, Sligo, 14 May; Excel, Tipperary, 15 May; Birr Theatre, County Offaly, 16 May; Dunamaise Arts Centre, 20 May; Strule Arts Centre, Omagh 21 May; Riverside Theatre, Coleraine, 22 May; Backstage Theatre, Longford, 23 May; Dean Crowe Arts Centre, Athlone, 4 June; Draiocht, Blanchardstown, 5 June; Island Arts Centre, Lisburn, 6 June; Town Hall Theatre, Galway, 10 June; Burnavon Theatre, Cookstown, 12 June; Market Place Theatre, Armagh, 13 June; Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray (Eire), 14 June; Buxton Opera House, 18 June; Garrick Theatre, Lichfield, 19 & 20 June
  • Further details: 077847 66811
  • Opera UK

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