Far from creaking after 25 years, Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is in fact one of the most joyous operatic shows I have ever witnessed.
There is no pretentiousness here, no “side”; instead Giles Havergal steps aside from the horrid concept of “director’s opera”, presenting the whole shebang as a fun-piece staged on a building-block of ladder-linked booths (Russell Craig’s brilliant designs) for the entertainment of the locals – which includes us in the audience, as the assembled company embraces us into the action, based so much on the ancient commedia dell’arte.
The response of the cast is ecstatic. On Thursday there was a late stand-in for Doctor Bartolo, William Robert Allenby deftly picking up the reins of this Pantaloon-like figure, joining the ranks of Christine Rice as an adorable, cheekily ironic Rosina, Andrew Kennedy as a florid, preposterous but totally likeable Almaviva (what a nasty piece of work he becomes when his voice drops two octaves in Mozart’s sequel The Marriage of Figaro, mind-confusingly composed several decades earlier), Clive Bayley full of presence as Don Basilio (whose voice rises two octaves in the Mozart!), and, above all, the deft Figaro of Jacques Imbrailo.
There were other delights: the spirited, perruque-combing child apprentices, Robert David Macdonald’s witty, clever translation (one of the most resourceful operatic translations of anything I have experienced), and, above all, the stylish, crisp playing of the WNO Orchestra under Simon Phillippo – and what a clarinettist to die for.
Rating * * * * *