Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Barber of Seville - Wales Millennium Centre, 22nd of September 2011

Borrowed from WNO

Figaro - Jacques Imbrailo

Count Almaviva - AndrewKennedy
Rosina - Christine Rice
Doctor Bartolo - Eric Roberts
Don Basilio - Clive Bayley
Berta - Megan Llewellyn Dorke
Fiorello - Philip Lloyd-Evans

Conductor - Alexander Polianichko
Orchestra and Chorus of WNO

Director - Giles Havergal
Designer - Russell Craig
Lighting Designer - Gerry Jenkinson

I’m holding my hands up, and typing this with my bose. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to tripping out to see The Barber of Seville, partly because WNO perform it in English, but mainly because it would have been my third serving of Giles Havergal’s production in recent seasons. If you’ve seen it, chances are you’ll have liked the self-conscious nature of the production, with its very own onstage stage and audience – you even have caped conductor Alexander Polianichko swapping a few words with cast, and crew (dressed up as busty wenches) before a single note has been played. It is an entertaining production - but see it too often and the enjoyment can wear off. To counter familiarity WNO came up with a smothering of canny casting for opening night, helping to turn a ho-hum evening into an enjoyable one.

Jacques Imbrailo’s Figaro is an elegant creature, maybe not the rambunctious character you’ll meet most days in Rossini’s masterpiece, but he proved to be a winning performer. The strength of his performance lay in his lyrical baritone, which stood up to the vocal demands of the role. As his employer, Andrew Kennedy gave the turn of the evening as Almaviva. Like Imbrailo before him his singing was seemingly effortless, and he was a joy to listen to – a smidgen too sober for my liking in the drunk scene, he garnered the cheer of the evening at the curtain call.

Christine Rice made for a formidable Rosina, perhaps too formidable in the first act where I would have liked a touch more guile to her portrayal. Although her top was a tiny petal short of full bloom on the evening, her lower register was 88% cocoa and was a welcome reminder that mezzos should be more than sopranos with a low register. And on a purely puerile level, she is a very fine looking Rosina.

Of the boo brigade I felt that Eric Roberts was curiously off form as Doctor Bartolo. He has been one of the highlights of this production in recent revivals, and I can’t help but think I caught him on an off night. Clive Bayley played his partner in slander with arid, malevolent magnificence; pale of face and green of coat, his Don Basilio was the calculating git he should always be.

Stepping up from the chorus Megan Llewellyn Dorke brought character a-plenty to the role of Berta – as did fellow chorus escapee for the evening, Philip Lloyd-Evans (Fiorello). Their lowly colleagues in the chorus shone, as is their wont.

In the pit Alexander Polianichko, conducting the piece for the very first time, brought a sprinkling of new ideas to the score – but nothing obtrusive. Once or twice the unison between stage and orchestra felt strained, though in general the performance of the orchestra was, as ever, sumptuous. It would be interesting to catch a later performance to see how Polianichko's take on the score develops.

Far be it of me to suggest to a professional opera company what works they should, and shouldn’t, perform – but I would like to think that WNO's Barber would be given a few seasons off following this run. You can’t always strike it as lucky as WNO have with this cast, and should it return in the near future casting would be more crucial than ever. My moan out of the way I’ll get around to spreading the word that this is a show worthy of opening your wallets to. Kennedy gives a Golden Lock of the Night Award ™ winning performance, and is surrounded by a well oiled cast and production that can silence even your noisiest neighbour (yes, you with the bloody whispering and sweet unwrapping). Details of when and where to catch the opera with the zippiest overture in opera can be found here.

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