Review: WNO - The Barber Of Seville @ WMC
With talk of cuts and marches over Cardiff Without Culture?, WNO - one of Wales' cultural stalwarts - troops on with a brand new season.
They have had the great idea of finally completing the Figaro trilogy, by playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, in operatic form. Rossini's Barber of Seville and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro are two cherished titans and are some of the most performed operas today. The world premier of Figaro Gets A Divorce, composed by Elena Langer, will fall later this month. It is a rare experience to have these three compiled together.
Undoubtedly Rossini's most beloved work, The Barber of Seville is a charming, witty and resplendent piece. The vocal writing is rife in trills and runs, delighting the ears, and the bouncy orchestral score is easily head-bobbing material, creating merriment for all listeners. The humour is rooted in Commedia dell'arte and, when done well, can be a house of laughter, the purest of comedy gold.
Under the direction of Sam Brown, here lies a very safe production of Barber. With renowned veteran designer, Ralph Koltai, this is a more simplistic set than we are used to at WNO, our previous staging more traditional and on varying levels. This expectedly safe and typical design (along with the rampant marketing) is what will bring in a new and hopefully growing opera audience on Cardiff. Hipsters can rejoice, as the Sue Blane costumes (famous for her Rocky Horror credentials*) are the retro 50's chic that you can get away with for this work. These are the sort of colours that you would see on old-fashioned lollipops from sweetshops of yesteryear.
As for the comedy, it is funny... but it could have been even funnier. There are no real gut-busting moments of hilarity but, instead, giggles, murmurs and titters. The first few scenes felt like a first night, though a ballet of giant dancing barber scissors during the overture was a comic treat and a swell way to begin the show.
The grand cast keep up the comedic momentum, here translated from the Italian into more accessible English (as is the rest of the season). As Figaro, Nicolas Lester is well-suited and in the vein of this clever role with which we are familiar (he should definitely do Magic Flute). His comic timing is swell, his baritone pleasing and his handling of the role respectable. Nico Darmanin (who was Malta's BBC Cardiff Singer of the World entry last year) is the eye candy, as Count Almaviva, who is in numerous and often amusing disguises. His singing has improved since his great entry to Cardiff Singer and he has obviously had a foot in the door, thanks to locals peeps wanting him here.
Rosina, here performed by Clare Booth, is clever in her playing alone with her escape but also a distress case, for not thinking of something on her own to escape the clutches of Doctor Bartolo. Rossini is well-suited for her voice and her arias are highlights. As the cunning Bartolo, Andrew Shore is an experienced player of this role. Shifty, sly and a real grump, he brings heaps of comic moments. His preparing of an injection for Rosina, only for it to then pierce his own backside, was a highpoint and had me in near hysterics.
Some characters are throwaway: Ambrogio (George Newton-Fitzgerald) and Berta (Rosie Hay) never really make much of a impact, even with the latter having her own aria. However, out of the supporting cast comes Richard Wiegold as Basilo. This bass singer is here like a cross between Elton John and Ken Morley (just picture it!), fake guide dog to boot. He arguably has the best aria in the whole opera, with its scurrying and fabulous instrumentation, as he advises the Doctor on how to manipulate poor Rosina.
This Barber is an easy sell to those too scared to make the operatic plunge and want to make a start somewhere.
Rating: 3 stars
The Barber of Seville continues in the Figaro Forever season at Wales Millennium Centre, along with a new production of The Marriage of Figaro and the world premier of Figaro Gets A Divorce, then on tour.
Ralph Koltai's Atomic Landscapes exhibition continues at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama till 13th March 2016.
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Photo credits: Richard Hubert Smith via WNO Press Images stock