While English National Opera’s first two productions of 2013 – La Traviata and Medea – have both been new, the final treat in store for this season (don’t worry – a new one starts in April!) is Jonathan Miller’s classic production of The Barber of Seville.
Rossini’s masterpiece of 1816 is a ‘prequel’ to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and involves many of the same characters in a timeless operatic plot concerning an ageing man (Dr Bartolo) who tries to stand between two young lovers (Count Almaviva and Rosina). It is acclaimed as one of the greatest opera buffas (comic operas) ever written, and is the only opera (that we know of) to contain an aria on the subject of slander!
Jonathan Miller’s creation is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, and opera productions don’t stay around for that long unless they’re good. Tanya McCallin’s set designs are radiantly sun-baked, and many of the vintage cast have experience in their parts, having played them in previous revivals.
There are a few opera stars who, even before we start thinking about the singing, can act as well as any Shakespearean performer. Andrew Shore is one, and expect all sorts of antics as, in the role of Dr Bartolo, he traps his pince-nez in the piano lid and yaps like a Pekingese. Similarly, David Soar as the music teacher Don Basilio is a class act with his deep smoky voice and strong comic gestures, while the cast also includes such high profile names as Benedict Nelson (Figaro), Lucy Crowe (Rosina) and Andrew Kennedy (Count Almaviva).
If anyone saw comedian Mark Thomas’s one-man show Bravo Figaro! last year, he was referring to the Figaro in this opera and, in particular, the aria ‘Largo al factotum’ (although here it will be sung in English). It is undoubtedly a catchy tune, but only one of many in The Barber of Seville, which is a highly accessible piece and could be an excellent choice for first time opera-goers.
ENO’s The Barber of Seville is on between 25 February and 17 March (eight performances) at the London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES. For further details and tickets (£19-99) see the ENO website or call 0871 911 0200.
Photo: Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo (left) is comedic perfection standing opposite Don Basilio who booms menacingly in his ode to calumny, © Alastair Muir.