The Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville

This joyous new production of Rossini’ opera buffa masterpiece soars above the pack. Cecilia Stinton’s brilliantly creative directing renders her Barber of Seville probably the most dazzling production of the opera since Jonathan Miller’s legendary 1987 Barber for the ENO. Stinton runs with the energy and drive of Rossini’s music. The result is an unmissable evening of bel canto comedy, fun, laughter, and inventive acting, pulsing rhythmically to Rossini’s gloriously tuneful music.

The City of London Sinfonia, conducted with verve by Charlotte Corderoy, was firing on all cylinders. The orchestra is embedded in the stage and thus blends into the dramatic action to great effect, as when, early on, Corderoy has to save her ponytail from a mischievous Figaro. In Act 2 the conductor briefly trades places with the disguised Almaviva. With baton in hand the young Almaviva, sung and acted brilliantly by Elgan Llŷr Thomas, conducts the orchestra with mock sensitivity, before inadvertently stepping out of the disguise by getting carried away and singing full-throatedly, only to be rescued just in time by Charlotte Corderoy. The comic scenes that thus launch Act 2 are hilarious, with the acting as sure-footed as the singing.

It is all tremendous fun. The plot of the Barber, a prequel to Mozart’s Figaro (which premiered 30 years earlier), is  generic senex amans New Comedy, as old as Plautus and Menander but underpinned here by music that time and again takes one’s breath away: has ‘Buona sera’ ever been sung more beautifully? One wonders. Heather Lowe as Rosina and Paul Grant as Figaro dazzled by their vocal power and ranges. The duet between Figaro and Rosina triggered a roar of applause, as well it might. Figaro’s flamboyant entrance, through the serried ranks of the audience, another Stinton favourite device, worked well – we are with him and he is with us: yes, love matters, its madness notwithstanding, but so does money: he knows that, so do we.

It is in truth virtually impossible to single out any one performer here as all the singers were on top form. This Barber is a triumph of ensemble acting and singing. Even so, Jihoon Kim (Don Basilio) was a revelation – what a glorious, lyrical bass voice, surely heading for the stars? Janis Kelly’s Berta deservedly drew enthusiastic plaudits from the audience, while the be-deerstalkered Stephen Gadd’s acting and singing flowed in perfect unison with the score of the demanding role of Dr Bartolo. Casting him as a 1920s Howard Carterish amateur lepidopterist – to cap it all with a bad case of sunburn – was one of the production’s many creative touches, which egregiously implanted Egyptology into the neighbourhood of a market square taverna in Seville.

The choreography on this challenging set was breath-taking, with the singer-actors moving and flowing across it as one. The opera’s movement director, Bence Kalo, had worked his magic: a balletic fluency underpinned, one may be sure, by many hours of hard work behind the scenes. It was ensemble acting and singing at its most accomplished.

This reviewer had recently seen Rossini’s Barber in two world-famous opera houses. Neither in truth could hold a candle to this most memorable, fired-up production. This Barber of Seville may well be this summer’s most enjoyable evening out in London.

Opera Holland Park

Composer:  Gioachino Rossini

Conductor: Charlotte Corderoy

Director:     Cecilia Stinton

Until 21 June 2024

Running time 3 hours including a 20 minute interval

Photo credit: Ali Wright