Music: Gioachino Rossini
Libretto: Cesare Sterbini
Writer: Pierre Canon de Beaumarchais
English Translation: Robert David MacDonald
Director: Giles Havergal
Conductor: Stuart Stratford
Reviewer: Malcolm Wallace
For opera lovers Rossini’s Barber of Seville is one of the greats. An enduring classic that features regularly in every opera company’s programme that offers a hugely entertaining evening and rarely fails to fill the house. For newcomers to opera, The Barber of Seville is a good and solid starting point. Farcical and light with some glorious melodies, the opera written in 1816 takes its inspiration from the same source as Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Beaumarchais’ trilogy of plays about the enterprising and clever barber.
Opera North’s current production is a testament not only to the quality of the music by Rossini and libretto by Cesare Sterbinibut is a showcase for the talents of translator Robert David MacDonald. Operas sometimes sound clunky and awkward when sung in English. However, MacDonald avoids this and has created a very funny and very English translation featuring plenty of modern references and a good dollops of English sarcasm.
Further testament to the quality of the production under the direction of Giles Havergal is its age. This particular staging which is jointly produced by Welsh National Opera was first staged 28 ago in 1986 and shows no signs of ageing whatsoever. The concept is so simple, with the piece being conceived almost as a show within a show with a multi-leveled and multi-functional rustic set designed brilliantly by Russel Craig (who is also responsible for the sumptuous period costumes) taking centre stage while members of the Opera North chorus provide an ever-changing onstage audience.
The story, of which there is not a lot, concerns the young nobleman Count Almaviva who falls in love with Rosina, the ward of Doctor Bartolo. In order to win her affection and prevent Bartolo marrying the girl himself Almaviva enlists the help of Figaro, the Barber of Seville and needless to say, as in all farces, chaos ensues and a happy ending awaits.
After an unusually shaky start under the baton of Stuart Stratford, the Orchestra of Opera North delivered the goods as they always do, with competence and style making the most of the lush orchestrations.
Leading the cast and brilliant in the title rôle is Gavan Ring. He is a wonderful actor with a great voice and gives a performance of enthusiasm and energy perfectly characterising the sprightly and ever resourceful Figaro. After some messy cadenzas in his first aria, Nicholas Watts warms into the rôle of Almaviva and shares a super onstage chemistry with Katie Bray, who sings and acts Rosina with relish. Much comedy is found in the rôle of Doctor Bartolo by Eric Roberts whose brilliant characterisation compensates for an underpowered vocal performance. Also very amusing is Alistair Miles as Don Basilio whose deep bass voice resonated powerfully throughout the auditorium and in the small rôle of Berta the House Maid, Victoria Sharp provides a stunning example of the quality of Opera North chorus.
This is another excellent production by Opera North that was received warmly by the opening night audience in Salford. For pure escapism, beautiful music and a good giggle,The Barber of Seville is one not to be missed.
Runs until 12 November 2015 | Image: Contributed