Barber of Seville, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2016Posted on 14 February 2016
This is the first of a trio of operas — along with The Marriage of Figaro, and a new opera called Figaro’s Divorce — from Welsh National Opera for Spring 2016, all co-productions with the Grand Théâtre de Genève, where they will appear later.
Continuity between the three is provided by the design team, which in Barber gives us two adjoining, semi-transparent walls that can rotate independently, revealing both the inside and exterior of Dr. Bartolo’s house. The transparency allows us occasionally to see both sides of a wall, depending on the lighting, particularly useful for the spiral staircase to Rosina’s room, and the assembling and dismantling of the stepladder in the elopement scene. Costumes are glorious, with red silk trousers for Figaro, dark glasses for a blind Basilio and his hilariously musical dog, and a sexy dressing gown and lingerie for Rosina.
She was the star of the show, so very ably sung with lovely diction and coloratura by the prettily manipulative Claire Booth. Her beloved and mysterious admirer Almaviva was given great vocal charm by the handsome Nico Darmanin, his partner in dissimulation being the spirited and commanding Figaro of Nicholas Lester, whose excellent stage presence and vocal abilities only lacked a little in diction. It is not always easy to express fast paced Italian repartee in English, colloquially translated here by Kelley Rourke, but that star of the English National Opera’s star turn, Andrew Shore gave a superbly voiced Bartolo, with great comic timing and entirely convincing mannerisms that express the character of this scheming physician without making an ass of him. Wonderful, and I enjoyed the medical frivolities with Rosina.
Fun and good singing too from the rest of the cast, particularly the wittily attractive Berta of Rosie Hay, and the clumsy Basilio of Richard Wiegold whose exit into the wings during that passage where everyone wants to be rid of him leaves him returning with a stage light filter round his neck. Direction by Sam Brown, with sets, costumes and lighting by Ralph Koltai, Sue Blane and Linus Fellbom, makes the most of light moments without ever going over the top, and ends with the single policeman, who enters Bartolo’s house with a pack of irritated neighbours, taking the wedding photograph.
Bringing acting, singing and orchestra together with panache and well-judged tempo changes was James Southall, providing a musical treat of Rossinian wit.
After further performances in Cardiff this tours to: The Bristol Hippodrome, 15–18 Mar; Milton Keynes Theatre, 29 Mar – 1 Apr; Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 8–11 Mar; Birmingham Hippodrome, 1–4 Mar; Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 5–8 Apr; Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 22 Mar — for details click here.