Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, Royal Opera House, 13 September 2016

Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) is perhaps the most famous 'opera buffa'- an informal style of comic opera developed to appeal to the lower classes in the early 18th century. It's an adaptation of Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais' play Le Barbier de Séville, part of a dramatic trilogy that also inspired Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro.

Rosina is confined to the house by her guardian Bartolo. He wants to block all potential suitors so he can have her, and her inheritance, for himself. Wealthy Count Almaviva falls in love with Rosina, but he is consistently thwarted in his attempts to see her by Bartolo. Almaviva asks Figaro, a cunning barber in Siviglia, to help him. What follows is a whirlwind story of love, power, wealth and superb comedy.

Mexican tenor Javier Camarena caused quite a stir at New York's Metropolitan Opera earlier this year when he became only the third tenor allowed to perform an encore - the others being Luciano Pavarotti and Juan Diego Floréz.

He has yet to create ripples in the UK, as we've seen so little of him. As Count Almaviva, this was his Royal Opera debut and it was worth the wait. He handles Rossini's characteristic vocal gymnastics with ease; the final tenor aria in this opera often decides the success of the production, and Camarena's rendition is worth the ticket price alone.

His softer singing, delicate and tender, is as impressive as the huge notes. He is a fantastic complement to Daniela Mack's tempestuous Rosina, also making her Royal Opera debut. Having been building her international reputation, Mack positively glows on stage and has a lush mezzo, showcased beautifully in "Una voce poco fa".

Another debut came from José Fardilha, who is an old hand at lecherous guardian Bartolo, having played the role in Paris, Stuttgart, Barcelona and Madrid. His rich baritone is clear and fluid and his comic timing is wonderful, especially in his scenes with the inimitable Ferruccio Furlanetto, who brings his beautifully modulated bass to the role of Don Basilio.

Reprising the role that was so well received when he performed it in 2013 in Turin, Italian baritone Vito Priante returns to the Royal Opera House to sing Figaro. He is irrepressible, appearing from the back of the stalls to deliver "Largo al factotum", obviously enjoying every moment on (and off) the stage. His baritone is smooth and expressive, but there are points he is lost under the orchestra.

Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási made his well-received Royal Opera House debut in 2013 conducting Turandot. Here he draws out much of the lively and optimistic nature that is essential to Rossini's composition.

Most of the slapstick comes from the brilliant chorus; the humour is not subtle, but it's not meant to be. It's amazing to think that the opera was first performed 200 ago and yet the wit is as sharp today as ever.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia will always be popular and attract a large audience. This is the fourth revival of the Moshe Leister and Patrice Caurier's production in 10 years. In 2006 it dazzled with novelty and ingenuity. In 2016, it still enchants and captivates but could do with a rethink to make it feel quite as polished as some of the performers. The singing often dazzled but the overall production was missing a top note of zing.

Christian Fenouillat's set design and Agostino Cavalca's costumes work beautifully in tandem, with cartoon-like colours and joyous patterns. Fennouillat brings the production inside a box; perfect for conveying Rosina's confinement. During the riotous finale to Act 1, the box containing the whole cast moves as though caught in a storm - on slightly stuttering hydraulics - to reflect the confusion and chaos of the story.

There is nothing new in this production, but it is colourful, witty and enhanced by some truly sparkling debuts.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia is at the Royal Opera House until 11 October

Photo Credit: Mark Douet


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