Though composed after The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart’s dramma-giocoso masterpiece, Rossini’s Barber of Seville is the first in Beaumarchais trilogy of plays. It’s enduring melodies and farcical plot have made it the mainstay of the operatic stage for centuries. If you stop anyone on the street, opera lover or not, they are bound to recognise Figaro’s opening aria – so parodied in Warner-Bros cartoons from our childhood. And for these reasons any production is usually a sure-fire hit. This, the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s production, is a classic and still entertains even though it is perhaps a little dated around the edges.
It is a truly very talented and well-sourced cast that keeps the energy and comedy of this production alive throughout the evening. Morgan Pearse is a very young Figaro, still in his twenties, and bursts onto the UK operatic scene in this role. His voice is rich and has a bassy depth to it which comes across very well, even in this high baritone role. Eleazar Rodriguez makes for a sweet-voiced Count Almaviva. After an initially shaky start in the opening aria, which can easily be put down to opening night and ENO debut nerves, he came into his own transformed into the drunken soldier and cheeky music teacher. A high placed and pretty light tenor voice, he sometimes struggled against the orchestra’s boisterous playing, as did many of the cast. The balance was not always the best; having sat in the stalls, a friend situated in the balcony corroborated the fact. Again Andrew Shore shone through in another fantastic performance at ENO – his Bartolo steals the show. With fantastic physicality and comic timing, his singing was characterful and very enjoyable to witness.
Tanya McCallin’s set works very well, but at times is flatly lit. The thunder storm of Act 2 was also quite a tame affaire, with some of the sound affects feeling out-of-date and a little cheesy. But of course we expect so much more now from our productions, with such stunning productions as Krol Roger at ROH and the most recent Magic Flute at ENO. This Barber does very well to keep up. Great vocal performances and comic timing keeps this Rossini comedy bouncing along and you hardly notice the long first half. A great show for opera initiates and lovers alike, this is still a very effective Barber.
The Barber of Seville is playing at ENO until 11 November. For more information and tickets, see the English National Opera website.