Despite attending WNO productions in Cardiff for over twenty years this was the first time I have seen their staging of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville; this is a matter of some regret as it is utterly delightful.
Rossini’s opera was first performed in 1816. It is a prequel to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, telling the story of how Count Almaviva (abetted by the wily barber Figaro) comes to woo and marry Rosina, the ward of the elderly Dr Bartolo who plans to marry her himself. The story is very funny, and I am sure I have never laughed so much at the opera.
The comedy is heightened by excellent performances but also by the fact that the opera is sung in English rather than Italian. At first this took me by surprise, but the pay off in terms of engagement and humour is justified (the Count calling Dr Bartolo Dr Bungalow being a highlight).
The absurdity of the story is also well reflected by the decision to stage the opera as a performance within a performance; the multi-level stage set works very well, as does the device of having a nineteenth-century audience on stage watching the opera.
Nicholas Lester, Heather Lowe, Andrew Shore and Nico Darmanin
Nicholas Lester and Heather Lowe
The leading members of the cast form a wonderful ensemble, with everyone making an impact, including Keel Watson as a stately and bemused Don Basilio and Angharad Morgan as a Tracey Ullman-esque Berta. Nicholas Lester cuts an impressive figure as a dashing and inventive Figaro, his height contrasting comically with the more diminutive Nico Darmanin as the Count (when he comes on dressed as a soldier, I was forcibly put in mind of the cartoon Tom and Jerry’s mouse when dressed as a Mouseketeer).
Heather Lowe makes for an appealing and determined Rosina, and perhaps makes the most impact in the singing stakes.
Finally, Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo almost steals the show in a wonderfully comic performance; the section where he sings in the old-fashioned opera style is another highlight amongst so many memorable moments.
All in all this production is the perfect tonic for our troubled times. Do not miss it.
Touring including Venue Cymru, Llandudno, December 2
Main image Heather Lowe and Andrew Shore
Images Richard Hubert Smith