Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A command of staging, music and comic timing

The Barber of Seville

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , September-27-08
The Barber of Seville by Welsh National Opera Oh yes let’s have much more of Giles Havergal, here’s a theatre director that knows his stuff! He brings to this highly entertaining Opera buffa a command of staging, music and comic timing that it is no wonder this production has become one on the company’s widely seen staples. He does it all with the precision of a star choreographer, this gives so much confidence to the performers that it is with a seeming ease they all give us such delight.

We are in seventeenth century Seville, the strolling players have come to town and set up their stage in the main square, they are regular visitors. The locals wander up and chat with the assistants setting up the performance and they renew old acquaintances in the band. They clap politely as the stage managers unfold the front curtain, letting us see more of Russell Craig’s clever, warm, Hogarthian style design, set on four levels, with curtains that fly open and close like the banging doors in a present day farce.

The young Count Almaviva, disguised as music student, Lindoro conducts a rag bag of local musicians to serenade under Rosina’s window in the hope that she will appear before him. His hopes of her appearing are about as good as he might get her to marry him for himself rather than his wealth in the present day. This charmingly silly scene sets the atmosphere for all the joys that reveal themselves as we dance through the story.

Once again the WNO brings us the high level of singing that has marked their recent seasons. South African-born, Colin Lee has quickly become one of Britain's leading young tenors in the bel canto repertoire. His Count Almaviva is perfectly pitched and with his beaming smile he charms not only the distracted Rosina but the whole of the audience. He also demonstrates an acute sense of comic timing which he shares with everyone in this happy ensemble. The part of Rosina makes a big demand of the leading soprano and Laura Parfitt rises to it consummately, her musicality no way distracting from the spirit of great fun she invests in the role.

Eric Roberts as the aging libidinous Bartolo is again as much a master of fun as he is of Rossini’s fast moving composition and he is well matched by his house-keeper, again sang with vigour by Naomi Harvey. Resembling a Regency Homer Simpson, Tim Mirfin dominating every one with both the height of his forehead and the height of his body, sang a firm bass but almost more importantly typified the subtle and at times not so subtle comedy that was reflected through every aspect of the production, responding perfectly to the flourishing music.

Figaro, one of opera’s great fixers with an iconic aria was presented to us, full of fun, with a vigorous dynamic by John Moore, an American baritone with a captivating presence who dexterously took us all with him on this amorous and successfully, climaxing adventure.

Words and music, the essential components of opera, and of all musical theatre and these two forms increasingly come closer together. There are deft and lyrical touches of Rossini’s opera seria but it is as the last and greatest composer of the fast moving buffa style he makes his greatest appeal here. Splendidly conducted by Gareth Jones the principal singers respond wonderfully to the challenging demands when they are required to sing together furiously and, as ever the WNO chorus is in fine voice. All in all a most enjoyable venture into an ensemble opera performance appropriately embellished by Robert David MacDonald’s free and humorous translation of Sterbini’s libretto, that will continue to delight well into the future.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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