The Barber of Seville, English National Opera, London Coliseum, February 2013

This witty Jonathan Miller production, under the baton of Jaime Martín who is making his British operatic debut, is full of lively energy. Revival director Peter Relton has produced excellent team work, with exemplary diction, led by that great singing actor Andrew Shore as Dr. Bartolo. He was a hoot, and the whole cast was highly amusing without ever being over the top.

Happy ending, all images ENO/ Scott Rylander

Happy ending, all images ENO/ Scott Rylander

Lucy Crowe made a delightful Rosina, vocally secure with her pretty frills and trills, and Benedict Nelson’s portrayal of Figaro gave a great sense of clever improvisation as he finds a way round all difficulties to assist Count Almaviva win her hand. As Almaviva himself, Andrew Kennedy serenaded Rosina with great vocal warmth, singing strongly in his duet with Figaro, and the entrance to her home as a drunken soldier was amusingly done. The vernacular translation helps as Almaviva quietly verifies his identity to the real soldiers and their commander says, “Back off chaps”.

Bartolo and Rosina

Bartolo and Rosina

David Soar as Basilio was terrific, and the translation allows him perfect insouciance after his “Calumny” aria when Bartolo proposes a different method of handling things, “As long as I’m paid I couldn’t care tuppence!” During that aria as Basilio sings of his plans rising to a crescendo that will produce explosions, the orchestra entered fully into the spirit of things with wonderful musical bangs. Martín’s conducting was a bundle of joy, and as the sextet from the end of Act I built in intensity there was a huge bounce to the music. Included in the sextet is Katherine Broderick as Bartolo’s maid Berta, who sang very strongly in her bold Act II aria.

Jonathan Miller’s production with its excellent lighting celebrates its 25th year, and is full of wonderful moments — I loved the noisy locking of the door at Bartolo’s house early in Act I. But what really brought this performance to a state of perfection was Andrew Shore’s handling of Bartolo. His long aria (For a doctor of my standing …) in Act I was very wittily delivered, and as he gets increasingly upset and falls down he produces awkward strangulated sounds. Wonderful fun, and in Act II when he nods off during the singing lesson and shows confusion about the place in the music, his brief falsetto was brilliantly done. However many times you have seen Rossini’s Barber go again for this untouchable example of how to perform Bartolo.

Performances continue until March 17 — for details click here.

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