Now a well-tried and tested part of the English National Opera’s Repertoire, Jonathan Miller’s production of Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville is jollily trotted out at the Coliseum once more – for its twelfth run, no less. Peter Relton’s revival of the production, now almost thirty years old, is still charming, entertaining, and genuinely funny.
Count Almaviva (Eleazar Rodriguez) falls in love with the beautiful young Rosina (Kathryn Rudge) from afar and begins to woo her from her window with the help of a band of clumsy musicians and a risky exchange of love notes. Once he is assured that she returns his affections, only one thing stands in their way: Rosina’s grumpy, old-fashioned guardian Don Bartolo, played by ENO favourite Andrew Shore, who spends a lot of his time in a state of outrage either at the carrying on of the enamoured pair or at the state of ‘modern comic opera’. With the help of the title’s sneaky and cheeky popular barber Figaro (Morgan Pearse), Almaviva gets into some terrible scrapes and mild peril before finally getting the girl.
The ENO’s Music Director Mark Wigglesworth promises the audience in the programme that the cast has ‘been chosen and rehearsed with as much care as it would be if the production were brand new’, and it shows. The performances are outstanding, with sight gags aplenty and some wonderful singing, though some voices are occasionally drowned by the orchestra under the command of Christopher Allen. Upcoming mezzo soprano Kathryn Rudge proves just why she was named The Times’s Rising Star of Classical Music in 2012, and Morgan Pearce manages Figaro’s tongue-tying part with a highly impressive performance. Barnaby Rea as Don Basilio and, of course, Shore as Bartolo have the audience in pieces by the end, adding a little Carry On flavor to the opera’s comic climax with an oversized hat and a bowl of slapstick-style shaving foam respectively. I must confess that this was my first experience of Miller’s production but it did not show its age at all. Tanya McCallin’s set design is intimate and engaging and the plot rushes along with such gusto that even the faint ridiculousness of some of the English rhymes seems part of the fun of the evening.
This season sees the ENO widening access, providing 500 seats at every performance for £20 or less. It’s this tempting and affordable offer, and productions like this Barber of Seville, that will help them to break down the perceived barriers to opera. There’s no pretentiousness or stuffiness, just a lot of fun and world-class talent that will hopefully show a whole new audience that the ENO is a national institution to be proud of. I know I’ll be back.