My teenage nephew looked puzzled when I told him we had been to a really funny opera. Clearly, having a fun night at the opera was not something that he could envisage. Yet this totally zany if not downright silly interpretation of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville cannot fail to entertain, bring a broad smile to the face and prompt plenty of laughs and even a few ahhs (that’s the sweet little toy dogs that are led around the stage).
Nico Darmanin and Nicholas Lester
Okay, so there is no attempt to make any more of the characters than stereotypes, lecherous old guardian Dr Bartolo, that cunning Barber, love-struck Count Almaviva, ridiculous Basilio (who has the cute dog that sports the same blind person’s glasses and piano keys tie!). Perhaps a little unusual was the Rosina who was rather tarty than just feisty young woman but part of that was her costume designed by Sue Blane who made her something of a female Frank’n’Furter (stockings, undergarments and slinky negligée) who doesn’t quite make herself a man but was determined to get herself one.
Similarly the direction on stage and approach in the pit from the baton of James Southall was one of blustery fun, full of verve and energy, as subtle as one man band big drum that, for some reason, Almaviva (unsuccessfully) plays while the Barber Shop singers sort of woo Rosina under her balcony.
Claire Booth and Nico Darmanin
This Sam Brown production occasionally gets carried away and a little less is more would certainly have helped. We don’t really need the male chorus turning up as old 1950s Hilda Ogden-esque housewives who batter each other with rolling pins to get their hands on Almaviva’s scattered bank notes. Similarly, there probably was a reason why they then all took a piece of Rosina’s next over-the-top costume, a stylised golden flamenco dress. This is Seville after all.
In fact, Brown seems to take his inspiration from all over the place; a knees-bending policeman and singing troupes straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan, panto jokes and slap stick fun, Whitehall bedroom farce comings and goings, all wrapped up in Rossini’s nonsense narrative.
The veteran designer Ralph Koltai received a warm applause when he appeared for the curtain call but I cannot say anything of particular interest concerning his copper and golden rotating panels.
Howard Kirk and the Men’s Chorus
Andrew Shore and Claire Booth
I was not taken by the English translation used in the Giles Havergal production that has just been retired. Similarly, I found Almaviva, already disguised as a student Lindoro, just plain stupid as Boy Scout Arkela instead of a soldier trying to gain access to Bartolo’s house as a billeted soldier. Nico Darmanin fairly skipped around the stage trilling with coloratura cheekiness in his evident excitement as the plots unfolded matched bye Claire Booth’s sparkling soprano Rosina. Yet in this lathery larkiness I am not sure if anyone worried too much what happened to these lusty lovers.
Most of the humour came from Andrew Shore and the situations that are either created by him or that centre on him as the tall and striking Figaro of Nicholas Lester who did not need his height to bring stature to the role. There was plenty of novelty in this Figaro and his antics to make this so well-known role fresh and fun.
WNO Men’s Chorus, Rosie Hay, Richard Wiegold and Andrew Shore
Richard Wiegold and Rosie Hay were also given panto style daft characterisations as Basilio and Berta to perform and whole I am not sure the RNIB would approve of the apparent funniness of the music teacher’s blindness, he and his dog got plenty of laughs while the fag smoking old maid shared something of Rosina’s tartiness.
Wales Millennium Centre 17, 19, 23 & 25 and touring including Venue Cymru Llandudno March 8, 11