Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, Opera Holland Park

Cecilia Stinton's immersive new production of the Rossini classic runs until 21 June

By: Jun. 05, 2024
Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, Opera Holland Park
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Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, Opera Holland Park Even if the press night weather for this open air production suggested otherwise, this latest take on The Barber Of Seville is the perfect summer opera with its fluffy blend of humour and romance and some of the art form’s best known arias.

Kicking off Opera Holland Park’s 2024 season, Cecilia Stinton’s new production leans towards the immersive and playful. The opening scene sees Count Almaviva (Elgan Llŷr Thomas) in his disguise of Lindoro serenading Rosina (Heather Lowe) while musicians filter through the audience onto the stage to help out the lovelord Italian. Once there, they hold up letters which are intended to spell “Sposami” (marry me) but somehow arrange themselves into the markedly less amorous words of “mop” and “piss”. 

Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, Opera Holland Park
Photo credit: Ali Wright

This production isn’t without its minor flaws but Stinton has done a commendable job of creating a version of The Barber Of Seville which not only respects but is enhanced by its unusual setting. 

Being performed al fresco in a residential part of London, the experience naturally isn’t entirely without additional noise from the neighbours - but even they help create an immersive atmosphere. Rather than seeing this opera in the clinical surrounds of a theatre, it is easier here to believe that we are in a living city like Seville. The plotlines in Cesare Sterbini’s libretto are as ridiculous as Gioachino Rossini’s music is sublime but, thanks to the occasional sound of a child shouting, a dog barking or the rain pattering on the venue's roof, we can perhaps overlook the less plausible twists and wrap ourselves in arguably the finest example of Bel Canto

Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, Opera Holland Park
Photo credit: Ali Wright

An exciting cast sees Paul Grant take on Figaro again in West London so soon after playing the role of barber-cum-fixer last September in Milan’s La Scala for Leo Muscato’s acclaimed production. The inspired choice of highly experienced Scottish soprano Janis Kelly as Berta anchors the action, especially in the second half. 

Taking on the parts of two of opera’s most memorable “baddies”, Stephen Gadd and Jihoon Kim respectively play the dastardly duo of Rosina’s avaricious guardian Don Bartolo and his scheming ally Don Basilio. Stinton wickedly plays up the rivalry between the two sides as they fight over the hand of Rosina: when we first hear Bartolo and Basilio discuss their plans to get hold of her inherited fortune, Robert Price’s instinctive lighting design sees the stage darken and the villains' malevolence becomes almost palpable.

Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, Opera Holland Park
Photo credit: Ali Wright

Holland Park’s tilted halo-shaped stage with its orchestra in the centre has presented challenges to some past productions but Stinton takes it all in her stride and builds it into the story. When Almaviva enters Rosina’s house to woo her at close range as her fictional musical teacher Don Alonso, there’s some wonderfully directed interplay between the Count and Basilio. Keen to prove his apparent musical credentials, Almaviva strides confidently into the pit and temporarily takes over from conductor Charlotte Corderoy. It’s a superb meta touch that would be impossible to imagine being done as fluidly in the black box setups of the Coliseum or the Royal Opera House.

The Barber of Seville continues at Opera Holland Park until 21 June.

Photo credit: Ali Wright




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