The ENO’s The Barber of Seville is steeped in history, in more ways than one. Firstly, we have the inimitable Sir Jonathan Miller at the helm. Secondly, this production neatly marks 30 years after the ENO first staged The Barber of Seville in 1987. Throw in the fact that Alan Opie who played Figaro, the barber, all those decades ago now takes on the role of villain Doctor Bartolo, then this production, billed as a three hour long “feast of fun”, certainly peaks interest.
First things first, Morgan Pearse in the title role of the barber is magnificent both in voice and assured swagger. The second the self-appointed matchmaker and local trouble-shooter steps on stage, there is a palpable lift from the audience, and my only complaint is that sadly our eponymous barber is often elsewhere.
Pearse is well matched by his predecessor, Opie, who is reincarnated in the role of Doctor Bartolo. Opie successfully plays up to the moments of humour in his depiction of lustful and controlling Bartolo as he tries to hold his grip on his young ward Rosina. Opie draws out much of the laughter from the London Coliseum’s audience, but notably avoids relying on slapstick, which admittedly, other cast members do.
Soprano Sarah Tynan as Doctor Bartolo’s ward and Count Almaviva’s love, Rosina, puts in a strong performance but sadly, Tynan and her multi-disguised lover played by Eleazar Rodríguez, are overshadowed by Pearse and Opie’s inimitable stage presence.
The orchestra, led by conductor Hilary Griffiths in his ENO debut, provide a comfort blanket of sound, exceptionally executing Rossini’s familiar playlist, recognisable even to the less seasoned operagoer. The music reminds you that this is an old friend, and in many ways this helps to explain the reasoning behind the choice of traditional costumes alongside the predictable and admittedly, fairly dull, set.
A classic production that doesn’t veer too far off the beaten track, Miller’s version of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville does what it says on the tin. Except when it doesn’t. The ENO had unveiled a slick advertising campaign with a shaving cream adorned figure of Doctor Bartolo on a millennial pink backdrop. It was redolent of a Harry Styles’ solo album cover. Yet, despite the modern advertising and the new English translation from Amanda Holden and Anthony Holden, The Barber of Seville remains wedded to tradition.
In one scene, Doctor Bartolo laments the new type of opera that Rosina insists on singing, while he prefers “when opera was opera”. The ENO’s latest grants Bartolo’s wish. A safe sanctuary of good entertainment, but ever so slightly disappointing.
The Barber of Seville played at London Coliseum until October 30 2017.
Photo: Robbie Jack