English National Opera, London Coliseum – until 30 October 2017
It has been an undeniably difficult year for the ENO – financial problems, a change of chief executive and the perceived ignominy of having to accommodate the Metallica t-shirts and ripped jeans of the Bat out of Hell audience in its plush velvet seats for six weeks.
So I wasn’t expecting much from the latest revival of The Barber of Seville, even with a ’30th anniversary production’ tag, and I confess that when the curtain went up my heart sank further realising I’d seen it barely four years ago.
But conductor Hilary Griffiths polished off the beloved overture at a lick, and the capering, mincing commedia dell’arte characters portrayed by the versatile gents of the ENO chorus in the opening singing-under-her window scene did make the laugh out loud. From then on, gripped – apart from the fact the costumes and sets are unchanged, you almost wouldn’t recognise this as the same show.
This time round, a starry home team enthusiastically play up the comedy. Sarah Tynan is one of ENO’s most technically perfect sopranos but she’s also their wittiest actress and her Rosina is effortlessly sung and enjoyably mettlesome. Alan Opie scores highly as Dr Bartolo engaging your sympathies far more than the predatory old bore the character can sometimes seen. Yvonne Howard makes even the maid a star turn, and guitar-toting Morgan Pearse has more troubadour charm than barihunk bombast as Figaro.
I found Mexican tenor Eleazar Rodriguez’s Almaviva slightly too formally sung for such a rollicking show, but he plays along and proved nifty in the comic disguises too.
Touching to see Jonathan Miller, to whom the ENO owes so much for his highly bankable Mikado as well as this vintage production, brought on for an enthusiastic ovation, by revival director Peter Relton.
Two years ago, my colleague Franco wasn’t so keen. This time, thoroughly recommended.
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