NZO: Il barbiere di Siviglia

The Barber of Seville

or The Useless Precaution 

NZ Opera production

Saturday 29 June 2019, Opera House Wellington

Music: Gioachino Rossini 
Libretto: Cesare Sterbini

[based on Le Barbier de Séville, a play by Pierre Beaumarchais]

Director: Lindy Hume
Conductor: Wyn Davies

A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs

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Count Almaviva :  John Tessier
Rosina :  Sandra Piques Eddy
Figaro:  Morgan Pearse
Dr Bartolo :  Andrew Collis
Don Basilio : Ashraf Sewailam
Berta :  Morag Atchison
Fiorello/Officer :  Joel Amosa
Ambrogio :  Jesse Wikiriwhi

with Orchestra Wellington & Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus

Assistant Director : Jacqueline Coats
Set & Costume
Designer Tracy Grant Lord
Lighting Designer Matthew Marshall
Dance Captain Jesse Wikiriwhi
Chorus Director Michael Vinten
Répétiteurs : Fiona McCabe
Language Coach : Luca Manghi
Production Manager: Robert Hunte
Stage Manager: Lucie Camp
Head of WardrobeSophie Ham
Head of Wigs and MakeupCharlie Oswin
Surtitles translation: Narelle French & Lindy Hume
Surtitles OperatorsChristine and Jim Pearce

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tldr: the short story

This production of The Barber of Seville was an amazing, zany, anachronistic, surreal and delightful comedy. Excellent voices, orchestra, acting, costuming, set design, lighting and direction.
Many members of the audience applauded by a standing ovation – deservedly so.

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The long story:

Opera is so-much-more than an assemblage of voices accompanied by a orchestra, but if they are sub-par the rest of the operatic elements would be redundant. For this production, the voices and orchestra were simply exemplary – full of energy, zestful, enthusiastic, zany and talented.

It took a moment though. The orchestra was a little rough in the first few moments of the familiar Overture but they warmed up and were brilliant for the accustomed (and plentiful) Rossini’s crescendi. And for the singers, the initial arias were rhythmically rocky – well, not so much ‘rocky’ but ‘pebbly’ – not synchronising with the orchestra exactly. A ‘settling’ in.

Wyn Davies led the orchestra with an experienced finesse. The dynamics and tempos were precise and some of the florid and frilly passages were confidently and, seemingly, effortless played.

The Barber of Seville, June 2019. Photo: David Rowland / One-Image.com Left to Right: Don Basilio, Berta, Count Almaviva, Dr Bartolo, Rosina, Figaro, Count Almaviva, Ambrogio

The main characters were completely complementary, and it would be churlish to single any one out, so I am not going to. Their voices were robust, covered and flexible. Their tonal range and breath control was extraordinary. And the bel canto and convoluted coloratura melismata was adeptly executed. The chorus was balanced and confident in their performance, and clearly were well prepared.

The Barber of Seville 2019.Photo: David Rowland / One-Image.com

So, the orchestra and the voices – main characters and chorus – were excellent. Now, for the other operatic elements.

The acting was marvellous, given the comedic nature of the opera buffa. The main characters were perfectly cast: Count Almaviva as a passionate, privileged patrician; Figaro as a wild, impetuous and mercenary self-made-man; Rosina as a confident, amorous and frankly mischievous woman – a ‘Bette Midler’ clone; Don Bartolo as a grumpy, cantankerous decrepit doctor; Don Basilio as the conniving, unscrupulous gossip; Berta – the old and overripe maid. And Ambrogio – a non-singing role, but what a comedic presence. His ‘chandelier inversion’ was brilliant – but quite distracting.

The acting of the chorus was superb too – hopefully I have not given too many spoilers, but the hip-swinging of the serenade band, the terminator march of the soldiers, and finishing flamenco dance and chorus was delightful.

The direction from Lindy Hume and Jacqueline Coats was ideal for this comedy. They used all sorts of the gimmicks, mannerisms, zaniness, anachronisms and surrealistic tricks to maximise the humour in the story. Again, hopefully no spoilers, but: the wristwatch; the electric torches; the magic cupboard ( a sort-of ‘Harry Potter’ Room of Requirement); Figaro’s ‘Usain Bolt’ winning pose at the completion of his ‘Largo al factotum‘ aria; Don Alonso ‘peace signs’; Don Basilio opinion of Don Bartolo’s hanging up on their phone call (!); the expeditious shave; even with the translated surtitles – every opportunity of a comedic twist was explored. Most of them are well-used – farcical comedy clichés, in a sense. But that is okay. They worked! And that fitted with the music too. In a way, Rossini’s music is quite ‘light’, using the same ideas and techniques over and over again – almost superficial compared with other heavy-hitters in the operatic canon. But the music worked!

The Barber of Seville, June 2019. Photo: David Rowland / One-Image.com

The set design, costuming and lighting design followed the same ethos. When the curtain rose for the first time, and the overture was beginning, the doors and windows on the set were alternately illuminated. Visually, it looked like a convoluted and confusing puzzle – almost like a Benny Hill sketch with people running into many entranceways. The patterned projected lighting when Don Basilio concocts his devious scheme to Don Bartolo, and the thunderstorm had the same effect – spinning, muddled, confusing movement.

The costumes were marvellous: Figaro resplendent in skin-tight purple – almost Ali G; Rosina in rose; Don Bartolo in vegetative earthy colours; Don Basilio in cassock and Cardinal red … and the crimson suits and flamenco dresses for the chorus. The same anachronistic flair was there too: the Polizia and the thunderstorm raincoats were decades ahead of the rest of the costumes.

All of the operatic elements were superbly managed. It was a delightful way to spend an evening, and I will remember fondly for its entertainment value. The Barber of Seville was not meant to be profound, philosophical or an emotionally compelling experience. It was simply fun!

Many members of the audience applauded by a standing ovation – deservedly so.

One thought on “NZO: Il barbiere di Siviglia

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