State Opera of South Australia has staged a vibrantly colourful production of The Barber Of Seville and it’s dazzlingly vivid in many ways, from the musical performance to the singing, and from set and costume design to lighting design.
In a world of grey where muted tones of colour are just beginning to emerge, Rossini’s glorious comic opera has arrived like a tonic for the senses that many of us have been craving for.
The Barber Of Seville is an enduring comic opera, written by Rossini in just 13 days at the age of 24. That, alone, is a flamboyant accomplishment! However, this production takes flamboyance to new levels with its gelato-coloured array of doors and windows and its kaleidoscopic collection of costumes with swirl and sparkle.
The story is an age old one. A young girl, Rosina (Katie Stenzel), is trapped in the suffocating world of her guardian, Dr Bartolo (Douglas McNicol), while the illustrious count, Count Almaviva (John Longmuir), schemes ways to present himself as a commoner to Rosina, so as to win her heart on its own merit and not relying upon his power and wealth. To this end, he employs the barber, Figaro (Morgan Pearse), to conjure up some plans to get past the doctor.
John Longmuir’s vocal work is outstanding. This young tenor has power and control and often has the house transfixed with its sheer beauty, as if heaven itself has opened. One of the crowning moments is the “intimacy” scene with Stenzel, as they embrace and roll about the floor, all the while expressing their ecstasy in voice, without words. The “engaged” couple eventually reaches fever pitch and no doubt left many patrons gasping for breath as they remembered long-forgotten liaisons of unbridled passion from their youth.
Another highlight is Figaro himself. Pearse plays this barber with the vicarious swagger of Tim Minchin-cum-Puck, entering through the fourth wall, weaving magic with spells of sung wit, casting winks to the audience, and generally bringing the spirit of sly wit to the story.
Conductor, Graham Abbott, and the orchestra, truly blessed those present with a virtuoso performance, from sweet strings to brash percussion; there was as much light and colour coming from the pit as there was descending from the heavens of Matthew Marshall’s lighting palette. In fact, during the overture, Abbott, Marshall et al, held us transfixed as Rossini’s glorious composition was drawn to life, accentuated by orchestrated busts and pulses of light upon the door-plastered proscenium arch and set, as if Marshall were sitting among the musicians rather that up in the gods.
The only blemish on this delicious peach of a show was the directions decisions allowing Nicholas Cannon’s over-done Ambrogio to upstage too often. This character’s Addams Family-like “slapstick” and even its simple traversing of the stage, almost always distracted while offering little comedic succour, apart from one highlight, which could be described as a “high light” encounter with a chandelier. To be fair, younger members of the audiences took delight in this erractic man servant, much like children enjoy seeing the Wiggles at a shopping centre promotion. In a production already dripping with eclectic excess, all it might take is director, Lindy Hume, to borrow Abbott’s baton and signal Ambrogio to play a little more softly.
Notwithstanding, The Barber Of Seville, is yet another production of pure delight from State Opera of South Australia, albeit this time in co-production with Opera Queensland, Seattle Opera, and New Zealand Opera. Here’s hoping that Figaro’s line, “my mind is like a volcano…at the thought of money,” will prove to be a portentous prediction of good houses and ticket sales for this opera of love, joy, and good-hearted cheek.
The Barber Of Seville, State Opera of South Australia, Her Majesty’s Theatre, November 11-20, 2021. Photo credit: Soda Street Productions.