BWW Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE at Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Sunday 22nd April 2018.Co-Opera is presenting a production of Gioachino Antonio Rossini's opera buffa, The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution, with an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini. It is based on the first of three plays by Pierre Beaumarchais featuring the barber, Figaro, the second play having already been turned into the opera, The Marriage of Figaro, by Mozart, and it was first performed at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, in 1816. Two centuries later, it has lost none of its appeal.Tessa Bremner OAM is the director for this excellent production and, making his first appearance with the company, is the new musical director and conductor, Josh van Konkelenberg, with members of the Royal Commonwealth Society Ensemble as his orchestra. Along with the set design, by Ian MacDonald, the costume design, by Giovina d'Angelo, and the lighting design, by Brenton Watson, they have assembled a fine cast and created a bright and fast-paced production that thoroughly engages the audience. Count Almaviva has fallen for Rosina, the beautiful young ward of the old and unpleasant, Doctor Bartolo, who plans to marry her himself as soon as she comes of age in order to get his hands on her dowry. At the start of the opera, Almaviva disguises himself as Lindoro, an impoverished student, and serenades her with the aid of some hired musicians, wanting to win her love for who he is, not for his money and status. With the aid of the rascally barber, Figaro, Almaviva next disguises himself as a drunken soldier, in an attempt to be billeted with the Doctor, and then, later, as a priest who is also a singing teacher, supposedly filling in for Don Basilio, Rosina's usual teacher, in order to get close to her without arousing Doctor Bartolo's suspicions. The Doctor realises what is happening and brings forward his wedding plans, but Almaviva beats him to it, and marries Rosina. These five, then, are the main characters involved in the conspiracy and counter-conspiracy, with a clear nod to commedia dell'arte with the lovers (Innamorati) enlisting the servant (Arlecchino) to trick the old man (Pantalone) and his co-conspirator, Don Basilio (Il Dottore). Almaviva begins the opera as Lindoro, singing Ecco, ridente in cielo (There, laughing in the sky) to Rosina's window, high in Bartolo's house, but he fails to elicit a response, unaware that she has heard his voice, and is attracted to the person whom she believes is a poor student. Having paid off and dismissed his singers and musicians, he is left alone and downhearted, until help arrives. Figaro's famous self-introduction, Largo al factotum della città (Make way for the factotum of the city), marks his first appearance. Rosina, however, responds favourably to Lindoro's singing, as we hear when she sings, Una voce poco fa (A voice a little while ago). Four roles are shared and, on this occasion, the singers were Shoumendu Schornikow, as Figaro, Shanul Sharma, as Count Almaviva, Bronwyn Douglass, as Rosina, and Matt Biscombe, as Doctor Bartolo. On other nights, the roles of the Count and Rosina are sung by Branko Lovrinov and Livia Brash, and Daniel Smerdon takes on the roles of Figaro or Doctor Bartolo. Co-Opera likes to give as many emerging artists as possible an opportunity to sing major roles as a step to further their careers. The remainder of the roles are filled by the same artists at every performance, with Eddie Muliaumaseali'i, as Don Basilio, Sidonie Henbest, as Berta, Rosina's governess, and Rod Schultz, as Fiorello, Almaviva's servant. Peter Deane, Duncan Vecchiarelli, and David Visentin complete the ensemble as members of the chorus. Baritone, Schornikow's, Figaro is flamboyant and fun in an energetic performance, adding a playfulness to the role that endears him to the audience. Sharma, is magnificent in the tenor role of Count Almaviva. He not only has an astounding voice but he also establishes a superb characterisation. Contralto, Douglass, is a sensational Rosina, her voice equal to that of Sharma and, likewise, presenting a well-developed character. Biscombe, gives us a wonderfully creepy, slimy Doctor Bartolo, hovering like some lecherous praying mantis, ready to strike, a villain whom we love to hate. Muliaumaseali'i, with his powerful bass voice, is an imposing Don Basilio, with all of the gravitas required in the role. Henbest and Shultz are the two grumbling and put-upon servants, both of whom add to the comedy. Book your tickets, pack a supper and a bottle of wine, and be sure to see this very fine production before it heads off to a regional tour through this state, concluding the national tour.