Swansea City Opera – The Barber of Seville
New Theatre, Cardiff
Tuesday 20th February 2018
Seeing opera at Cardiff’s New Theatre has over the years become less of an experience. With Welsh National Opera finally getting an official home at the Wales Millennium Centre back in 2004, its previous venue would be mostly bereft of the art form (though the odd piece from Music Theatre Wales was staged).
Look no further than Swansea City Opera and it’s mega touring production of the always popular The Barber of Seville. Rossini’s opera is a delight and never fails to win over an audience. Though they might not be a familiar name, I was curious to see how well this revival works.
Utilising a set entirely bone white, the scorched Seville colours we know and love are here complete abolished. This creates a purity, as we see the characters go about there business as if they are almost in a graphic novel, the lavish colours of their own clothes brightening our eyes. There is humour here, yet I always feel there could be more wit, more slapstick when it comes to this great operatic comedy.
The story of Figaro (the barber in question) and his attempts to help Count Almaviva woo fair Rosina, is the backbone of the show. Though she is locked away by the cruel hand of Doctor Bartolo, the attempts to pass her notes and for her escape, are where the real comedic elements come into play. There is dressing up, mistaken identity and misunderstanding, all hallmarks of Commedia dell’arte, the genre which highly influenced theatrical comedy for centuries.
The singing was decent, though not groundbreaking. Making a fine Rosina is Annabella Ellis, very much the Spanish flower, which all the other characters seem to adore. Her voice, whether singing her glorious arias or the many duets, trios and ensemble parts heard within made for essential listening. Figaro is here played by Håkan Vramsmo, very debonair and cocky as the cunning barber who deals with the mechanics of the operation of getting the Count to Rosina. A firm baritone voice, which I found desirable to hear in more weighty dramas.
As Count Almaviva, William Wallace was the young, tall tenor who may need to find peace with the high notes and not force them so much. Though a great presence, his many guises as a drunken soldier and music teacher, add feathers in his cap for humour and vulgarity (at one point he dubs Doctor Bartolo: Doctor Fartolo!). As both director and said Doctor, Brendan Wheatly is a humorous outpouring of silliness. Whilst not the most remarkable voice, he makes up for with tight comic timing, theatrical poise and direction which is pleasant and pithy. Paul Hudson is the silver faced, lavish dandy Don Basilio (what outstanding headwear!), who steals the show. An impressive bass voice, which could rival the earthquake which rocked Wales the week prior, (the presence of the lowest voice is always welcome in opera). Every time he came back, I smiled with glee.
The addition of the maid, Berta getting an aria is also a nice consideration from Rossini. Here, Imogen Garner slips in and out of the drama, revealing a red garter to lure a man who would be lucky enough to get in her grasp. The chorus here is in great need of tighter directing. The opening scene with the musicians to serenade Rosina, was overplayed with rock style gesturing with classical instruments, is not very funny. The grabbing of each lead grabbing their hands and swaying back and forth is another troupe well overused in comic opera and should never be done again. Ever.
With John Beswick conducting and the small set of musicians in the pit, they melded the work into being, with the always fun overture and throughout the entirety of the whole opera. My only quip is the harpsichord setting on a keyboard, which is in need of slight dampening and an actual thunder sheet instead of the sound effects. Budget considerations, I guess.
This is one of the more accessible operatives endures in Wales for 2018. With decent ticket prices, a massive tour scheduled and the fact it is Barber itself, we expect many an audience to revel in this production.
The Barber of Seville continues on an extensive tour of Wales, England and the Isle of Man till 12th May 2018.
This reviews had been supported by the Wales Critic Fund.
Photo Credit: Visit Wales