Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, London Coliseum

By: Oct. 08, 2017

It is said that Rossini wrote his most famous opera, The Barber of Seville, in three weeks, but few opere buffe remain as fresh and funny as this one. The well known plot of cunning barber Figaro's attempts to unite Count Almaviva with beautiful Rosina, as they try to outwit her elderly guardian Dr Bartolo is as engaging today as it ever was.

Jonathan Miller's enduring version has been part of the English National Opera's repertoire for an incredible 30 years and yet it retains both relevance and pure entertainment. In an age where some directors are desperate to reinvent classics, it is comfortably reassuring to see a staging committed to the traditional costumes and staging of the opera in eighteenth century Seville. Sometimes, the original really is the best.

All revivals are not created equal and this one seems to have had an injection of renewed energy and vigour. The slapstick and physical comedy is sharply timed, the music fizzes and the singing is faultless. It reminds us why the ENO remains important and very relevant.

There are two main reasons for this; the first, the cast all has crystal clear diction. Opera in English works so much better when the surtitles are superfluous and here the audience can respond directly to the performers, rather than what they are reading. Rossini consistently challenges his singers to more and more outrageous vocal gymnastics and these singers rise to the occasion every time. It is a joy to watch.

The other reason this revival is so successful is the wonderful addition of British conductor Hilary Griffiths, who makes his belated and very welcome ENO debut. Griffiths clearly relishes every moment of the performance and infects the orchestra with his fizzing energy. There are a few moments when his enthusiasm for volume drowns out cast members, but overall he brings out the very best in both the orchestra and the performers.

The cast features some welcome fresh blood including former ENO Harewood soprano Sarah Tynan who takes on the role of Rosina with relish. Her rave reviews in the title role in Partenope earlier this year set very high expectations. Indeed, she gives a lively and very pure coloratura to the role and has a bright and colourful interpretation of the role, with a great mix of the coquettish and the suitably spiky.

The talented baritone Alan Opie, who sang the role of Figaro in the original production, takes on the role of Bartolo. His top notes are seemingly achieved without effort and yet his bass resonates incredibly well. He has superb comic timing and radiates enjoyment from the stage. The scene where he joins in Rosina's singing lesson is simply a joy.

Morgan Pearse made his ENO debut during the 2015/2016 season as barber Figaro and he returns to the role, managing the difficult libretto with remarkably clear diction. He uses some subtle twists to make the role his own and has enough swagger and bravado to invigorate the most weary audience member.

Mexican tenor Eleazar Rodriguez also returns as Count Almaviva and appears to have developed significantly since his last outing. He has a warm tone, which adapts nicely to his multiple roles and his comic timing is wonderful.

This is a sparkling, witty and suitably frivolous revival of Miller's beautifully directed version. A delight to watch.

The Barber of Seville is at the London Coliseum until 30 October

Photo Credit: Robbie Jack