| St George's Bristol
Opera Project: The Barber of Seville
|St George's Bristol, Great George Street, Off Park Street, Bristol BS1 5RR, United Kingdom|
Friday 15-Jun-12 07:30pm
Opera Project: The Barber of Seville
Rossini’s exuberant treatment of Beaumarchais’s The Barber of Seville (the prequel to The Marriage of Figaro) catapaults the audience into the romance of Rosina and the Count Almaviva, a romance ably assisted by the Count’s factotum Figaro. In a plot bordering on the farcical, Dr Bartolo’s plans to marry his own ward of court are thwarted at every step. If The Marriage of Figaro follows a loveless marriage, illicit assignations and the general difficulties of adulthood, The Barber of Seville is an explosion of youth, optimism and wit where love conquers over the ever – encroaching cynicism of age. Opera Project presents its wonderful period production for the first time at St George’s in its acclaimed translation by the director Richard Studer. As with its sister production (The Marriage of Figaro, presented at St George’s in 2009), Opera Project’s Barber of Seville is truly an opera for a summer’s evening. Given the high level of demand for Opera Project performances at St.George’s, early booking is recommended. Sung in English (translation by Richard Studer) with chamber orchestra.
A classic opera, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville was displayed in a new light by Opera Project this Friday. The easygoing plot of this 19th-century rom-com never tires when given a fresh edge, despite being so frequently performed. Taken out of the context of an opera house and downscaled, this Barber of Seville came to life in an intimate setting with some new words. The production featured a witty and original translation by founder, director and designer Richard Studer, ending with the line “It’s all turned out alright”. Indeed it did. The libretto was sharp and comical, giving the performance a modern angle without losing the traditional nature of the story and without trying too hard.
With a touring opera company, there is always the question of how the opera is going to work in each venue. The orchestra and conductor were placed stage left and despite being a good few metres back into the audience, it didn’t feel cramped or compromise the sound balance with the singers. There were moments when the singers were louder than the orchestra, but rather than hindering the opera this enhanced the focus, drawing attention directly onto the stage. Never at the forefront of an opera, it was difficult to study the orchestra as one would in a concert. They held their own and provided the rhythm, notes and accompaniment, polishing the rest of the performance.
It was clear that a lot of emphasis had been put on visuals and presentation. This was evident immediately from the brightly coloured and immaculately designed programme, though the illustrations did leave me anticipating more from the costumes and makeup. I was expecting more impact, with powdered wigs that any judge would envy, but settled for rouged cheeks and a paler face. Thought had certainly gone into the costumes and some stunning pieces were revealed to the audience, such as Don Basilio’s striped socks, the Count’s golden outfit for his big reveal, and Rosina’s lime green hooped-skirt dress.
The opening set consisted of a statue of a man and three panels of elaborate interior walls with bookcases all in white with green backlighting. This was eye-catching, though it wasn’t easy to understand it straight away. The set morphed simply from outside to inside without being too invasive on the stage, and when a stage hand came to change the set between the first two scenes, the audience applauded as he moved the statue to stage right. The point of the statue was never clear, but this was a moment that added to the comedy of the evening. There was a clever use of space in St. George’s where the stage right balcony door was used as the balcony window of Rosina’s room. She opened the door for her responses to Count Almaviva’s advances and then briskly slammed it shut, to laughs from the audience. There was also an emphasis on props, the most memorable instance being when Figaro used actual foam and a barber’s knife in the penultimate scene to shave Don Bartolo.
Vocally, the performance stood its ground. Rosina, played by Stephanie Lewis, stood out as giving the best performance. With what could have been an exhausting coloratura, her main solo was simply effortless, and despite the physical stage directions, Lewis never wobbled a note. It would have been nice to hear more of Marcin Kopek who played the extra parts of the notary and Fiorello, as he had a lovely tone to his voice and very good diction. Sion Goronwy, who played Don Basilio the music teacher, had a memorable deep bass tone to his voice, making his stage presence boom with considerable power. James Cleverton as Figaro, the Barber himself, was good, but undermined by an incredible performance from Nicholas Sales as Count Almaviva. The well-known aria “Largo al factotum” lacked the impact it needed to establish Figaro as an important character from the start. Sales demonstrated flexibility in changing characters and adapting his voice to suit whilst remaining audible in what he was saying. The recitative felt a little rushed at times, but then they did manage to perform the whole opera in just over two hours.
The opera was light-hearted in a pantomime way. The acting felt a little silly at times, such as the end of Act I where all the characters are on stage singing about confusion, and then entering into a series of different moves which went from pretending to be airplanes to pretending to swim. Though fun in nature, the staging of this scene was a little over-directed at times. But the plenty of tiptoeing and silly facial expressions certainly gave the audience a cheerful evening of a well-loved opera.