Reviewed by Paul Charlesworth
As part of its end-of-season tour, Glyndebourne Opera is presenting Rossini’s most frequently performed opera; indeed, one of the most popular and accessible of all opera’s, The Barber of Seville (Il Barbiere di Sivigla).
This particular production, by Annabel Arden, opened at Glyndebourne in 2016 and has been revived for the 2017 tour by Sinéad O’Niell.
At the outset, I have to say that it was an immensely enjoyable evening, and judging by the appreciative response of a full house at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, everybody felt the same. I do, however, have one very small reservation: Probably, more than almost any other comic opera, The Barber of Seville offers lots of opportunity for producers to introduce their own incidental material for enhanced comic effect, and this production has such stage business in buckets full. Fair enough – it is a farce and the clowning was performed with slickness and panache. There were a couple of occasions, however, where there were just too many extraneous antics going on onstage and this perhaps just crossed the line where it risked detracting from the singing and main action. It was difficult to see, for example, why we needed three, admittedly funny, rustic servants moving grand pianos around the set at various points in act one, and two further grand pianos descending from the skies at the end of the act.
Like much good stage farce, the plot of this opera does get somewhat convoluted. Essentially, the young Count Almaviva fancies Rosina, the beautiful ward of Dr Bartolo, who aspires to marry Rosina himself. Figaro, the local barber and general “fixer” devises various schemes to help Almaviva in his courtship, while Rosina’s comic music tutor, Basilio, warns Bartolo of the Counts interest and involves himself in schemes to frustrate the plans of Almaviva and Figaro, before switching sides and supporting the highest bidder. Members of the audience not familiar with the plot may need to concentrate to keep up with the action.
If you’ve seen Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, some of the characters will seem familiar. Both operas have librettos based on a trilogy of plays by the French dramatist, Pierre Beaumarchais. Mozart’s opera, first produced thirty years before the Barber of Seville, is based on the second of the plays and has Figaro trying to thwart Almaviva, (who is now married to Rosina) in his amorous adventures, while Rossini’s masterpiece, based on the first of the plays involves the interfering Figaro “helping” the count to get his girl.
One of the stated purposes of Glyndebourne touring opera is to give gifted young performers opportunities to take leading roles and in this endeavour, the company can claim some notable successes, including the world-renowned tenor Roberto Alagna. While the cast of this touring production may not include household names, all, without exception, rise to the occasion in their singing and acting. All of the principals, apart from Janis Kelly, who makes a major comic character out of the relatively minor role of Rosina’s governess, Berta, are singing in their Glyndebourne debuts. Thomas Greenhalgh excels in the role of Figaro, portraying him as a lovable, swaggering rogue and establishing good rapport with Jack Swanson’s Count. In the opposite corner, Fillipo Romano, takes on Dr Bartolo with due comic pomposity and a nice air of resignation. The female lead, Rosina is portrayed with alternating artful innocence and wicked wilfulness by the Italian Mezzo, Laura Verrechi.
Before the curtain went up on Act One, we were informed that Anatoli Sivkos, who takes the part of Basilio, was suffering with a throat infection. He was going to soldier on, but requested the audience’s indulgence. By the end of the act, it was clear that, although his characterisation of Basilio was very effective, his voice was deteriorating. During Act Two he thus walked the part, while the singing was competently undertaken by a stand-in from the Glyndebourne chorus, performing from the side of the stage. This was not as intrusive as it may sound and detracted little from the audience’s enjoyment.
The touring chorus contribute their share to the comedy as a group of bungling policemen, while Thomas Blunt does a good job of matching the pace the action on stage with his conducting of the well-disciplined Glyndebourne touring Orchestra.
Joanna Parker’s set, with Moorish fretwork and tiling, certainly evokes Spain and the lighting, by James Farncombe was excellent throughout.
You can catch Glyndebourne Opera on Tour at Woking until Saturday 11th November before it moves on to Norwich (14-18 Nov.), Milton Keynes (21-25 Nov. and Plymouth (28 Nov. to 2 Dec.). Don’t miss this opportunity to see world class opera close to home. If you’re not into opera, I can’t think of a better entry point.
Tickets cost from £23.90 to £92.40 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).
Glyndeboune Opera’s The Barber of Seville is at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking from 8-11 November 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/new-victoria-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7645.
New Victoria Theatre, The Ambassadors, Peacocks Centre, Woking, Surrey, GU21 6GQ