Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The Barber of Seville

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , February-14-16
The Barber of Seville by Welsh National Opera I never seen an opera anything like this before! Has there ever been an opera like this before? Rossini’s work may be known as a comic opera. But this was pure and wonderful farce following in the footsteps of great farceurs like Feydeau, Ben Travers and Brian Rix. We had the dropped trousers and the “Hello, Hello” policeman. If Nico Darmanin’s short but passionate Count Almaviva along side the commanding figure of Nicholas Lester’s Figaro broke into Morecombe and Wise “Bring me sunshine”, it would not have seemed out of place. But the greatest moment of hilarity came when Berta, Doctor Bartolo’s housekeeper, or Fartolo as he is once called in this great Hi-Ho comedy, flicks her cigarette ash into a giant grand piano in which Figaro is hiding. It catches fire! His great leap out of it and the banging of the lid in perfect time to the rhythm of Rossini’s score executed with perfect precision by the WNO orchestra encouraged by the magic and enthusiasm of débuting conductor James Southall.

All this ‘nonsense’ of course needs great professional control and director Sam Brown has his hands firmly on the bold, bright reins. The dazzling costumes of Sue Blane (best known for her designs for The Rocky Horror Show and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.) shine out from Ralph Kotai’s set. Now 91, Kolti’s design today remains as ground breaking and startling as they did when he first burst on to the theatrical scene over fifty years ago. We have huge reflective, translucent panels that move so smoothly to quickly bring us to the different locations the story demands.

We start outside the house of Doctor Bartolo, Andrew Shore plays the bumbling cuckold with a twinkle in his eye that despite his grasping behaviour, he is able to win over the audience with his inner charm and warm baritone. The men standing outside the house all seem to be barbers with their straw boaters, moustaches and shinny stripy waistcoats. They are there to help the young count, now disguised as Lindoro, a poor student, to serenade a lovely lady he has spotted in a room high above the street. Things are not working out very well, the Barber Shop singers leave and he stands alone and a bit lost. But help is at hand. Nicholas Lester introduces us to his strong and masterful Figaro from the back of the audience and immediately fills the whole of the auditorium with his virile baritone urging us to "Make way for the factotum of the city.” Though Kelley Rourke’s new translation is much more up to date and colloquial, even a bit jarring at times but well suited to the zeitgeist of the production.

Claire Booth’s Rosina is no gentle maiden with her flashing eyes and long legs we can see why Bartolo wants their marriage to take place as quickly as possible. The clarity and joy in her singing and the great fun in her acting is one of the highlights of the evening. Confusion reigns as the two men strive to
‘Get the girl’. This is not helped by the entrance of Basilio, Rosina’s singing teacher’s visit to the house with his highly amusing puppet dog on a lead who is at his canine best at the curtain call. With his large glasses, dog and white stick, Caerphilly born Richard Wiegold needs little more to raise a laugh but heightens the role with his comfortable bass tones. On Figaro’s instructions, Almaviva arrives at the house disguised and feigning drunkenness. Out of the blue we are in chaos, the police are called and the curtain falls on the conclusion of the first act.

Now another man with big glasses and another dog arrive on the scene, Almaviva this time disguised as the music teacher’s assistant. He tells Bartolo that is master is unwell and he will give Rosina her music lesson. At last our two young lovers are together and they plan their escape with Nico Darmanin endearing us and his ‘fiancée‘ with his fine tenor voice. All this, while Figaro is shaving Bartolo.

The Doctor has had enough, he calls a notary to get him and Rosina married. The notary arrives, Bartolo’s not there. Almaviva gets the notary to marry him and Rosina. Bartolo returns. He’s not very happy but we’ve all had a feast of fun.


Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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