Sunday, 25 October 2015

A decent Barber (ENO/Barber)

Gioachino Rossini, The Barber of Seville (Christopher Allen cond. English National Opera Orchestra)
 
Some Mediterranean sun was urgently needed after The Lighthouse, and what better than the Barber? Nobody romps in warm climes like Rossini.

An evening of the Barber in English is about as untaxing as it gets, and what's wrong with that? For the main part, this eons-old revival is deeply-charming much like the Boheme they chucked away. At the same time as ROH got rid of theirs too. There is now a gap in the market for the ultra-traditional Boheme in London. These crowd-pleasers are vital to filling seats. This is a problem the ENO has in a way the ROH just doesn't. Only a few hours before curtain up, I got a lovely seat on the third row of the dress circle, in the centre block, and there were many many more empty behind me. An early start on a Saturday night should sell out, shouldn't it? A fine use of the extra hour from the clock change which followed.
From the pit, an essentially very competent performance, but I wondered if at times there was an unwillingness to embrace the sheer joy of the piece. This is dramma giocoso after all. Not necessarily bombast, but the fun didn't quite flow from this as it can and should. I would have liked a more lyrical rending of the overture. It picked up steadily, even if at times it lacked a bit of oomph. A touch more pugnacity, please (Christopher Allen conducting).

On the stage, however, there was so much which really was funny; the audience were genuinely laughing regularly. The pleas for quiet in the opening scene, for example; or the comments about the stupidity of modern operas, got laughs courtesy of Donizetti. A herd of soldiers walking in to the Doctor's house; the Aria scene; Figaro hiding in the glazed cupboards which lined the room. The current cast can not only sing well, but act in a funny fashion too.

My concern was that opera in translation has two threats: inappropriate humour (not too much of an issue here) or can spoil famous arias (Largo Al Factotum for example). Actually the style of singing in the most famous arias here means it doesn't matter here. A translation by  Amanda and Anthony Holden (Amanda of Penguin Opera Guide fame), does a good job really. I think on balance that translation, whilst never my first choice, works quite well for comic opera. Translating will keep the most serious crowd away from the Coliseum - most would be delighted with top prices which are half those of round the corner. 
The current cast can not only sing well, but act in a funny fashion too. Rosina (Kathryn Rudge) offered the strongest vocals; Dr Bartolo (Andrew Shore) gave the strongest comic performance. He was just as funny as the Major-General in Pirates. Count Almaviva (Eleazar Rodriguez) and Fiorello (Matthew Durkan) were strong from the start. Don Basilio was funny and sounded well (Barnaby Rea). Berta (Katherine Broderick), Bartolo's housekeeper deserves credit and a bigger role; in Helmwige in ON's Walkure next year she will receive it.

Of what can be seen, there was essentially little to say. This was standard period costumes done for charm and wit. A whacking great white cloth hanging over the top of the set was lazy and odd. Why not light it up like the sky? Lighting (Tom Mannings) was rather weak: it didn't correlate to times of day, and was often curiously white and bright.

Overall: funny and well-sung; I'd happily see it agian this run.

Three performances remain until Weds 11 November.

Cast and creatives
Conductor   Christopher Allen
Director   Jonathan Miller
Revival Director Peter Relton
Designer   Tanya McCallin
Lighting Designer   Tom Mannings
Translators  Amanda Holden and Anthony Holden
Figaro    Morgan Pearse
Rosina   Kathryn Rudge
Count Almaviva    Eleazar Rodriguez
Dr Bartolo    Andrew Shore
Don Basilio   Barnaby Rea
Berta    Katherine Broderick
Fiorello    Matthew Durkan

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