Many of my generation were introduced to Rossini’s famed opera buffa The Barber of Seville via the famed Warner Brothers’ cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Director Lindy Hume’s vision of the work derives much from this technicoloured short, with its almost gaudy costumes and highly effective lighting (Tracy Grant Lord and Matthew Marshall respectively). The sets are dominated by a salon-like array of windows which open to spotlight members of the cast; its costumes reflect both the commedia dell’ arte, 1950s technicolour and postmodernism. A co-production between Opera Queensland, Seattle Opera and New Zealand Opera, it has already received acclaim at those companies.
From the opening of the familiar Overture, the highly dependable Graham Abbott led the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in a light-hearted, taut and energetic performance, which was an all-too appropriate escape from our current harrowing times.
The main characters of the work dealt effortlessly with the often highly intricate coloratura that is associated with Rossini and this work in particular. The lovelorn Almaviva was eloquently handled by tenor John Longmuir, whose performance grew in warmth and precision as the plot developed.
In his purple suit and kohl-lined eyes, Morgan Pearse’s Figaro was equal parts Johnny Depp and Pepé le Pew. Here again was another nod to Warner Brothers. Eloquently sung, Pearse’s complete identification with the role demanded our attention – and got it. His approach to the famous Largo al factotum (“Figaro qua, Figaro la …”) was barely contained within the limits of the stage; a comic take, which almost literally played to the gallery. With his physical energy, highly developed sense of character and stage presence, this was a world-class performance.
Katie Stenzel possesses a fine lyric voice, which coped effortlessly with the giddy and highly intricate coloratura demanded in the role of the seemingly demure yet capricious love interest, Rosina. This was notable in Act One’s well-known aria Una voce poco fa. However more sense of character, particularly her scheming, minx side, could have been projected.
Many of our finest local actors (Teresa LaRocca, Nicholas Cannon, Daniel Goodburn and Pelham Andrews) gave well executed performances, while veteran Douglas McNicol was excellent as Rosina’s protective guardian Bartolo, particularly in the second act. The chorus was highly effective and well choreographed (Carol Wellman Kelly), and the inclusion of guitarist Emanuel Auciello onstage, as part of this group, was sonically well balanced and indeed audible above the orchestral accompaniment.
The projected translations were concise, to the point and, above all, tailor-made for a contemporary audience dealing with the anachronisms and dated sexual and social politics of Cesare Sterbini’s libretto. All in all, here was a good night’s escapism and jocularity. Abbott led a rollicking performance of what can be a highly clichéd work, so well is it known; however the only musical foible to be found was in the highly dated use of piano in the recitatives, though very well executed.
In a much interrupted year wherein many productions have been cancelled or postponed, here was an escapist, popular comic opera both delightfully staged and performed. Light-hearted and effective entertainment such as this comes along only every so often.
The Barber of Seville plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, until 20 November.