Opera, to the uninitiated can be a daunting prospect. It can appear intimidating and difficult to understand, and I don’t just mean the language, I mean the protocol, how to behave, what to do.
But there is nothing daunting, nothing difficult about Nederlandse Reiopera’s Il Barbiere Di Siviglia – it is just pure fun from beginning to end. It is played entirely for laughs, all the stops pulled out, and it gets them. This production is akin to an English pantomime with bright colours, garish sets and costumes and over the-top characters – and it all works brilliantly.
Based on a play called Le Barbier de Séville by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, this is the first of three plays about a character called Figaro.
His second play was the inspiration for another opera – The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, therefore, is considered a prequel to the story of Mozart’s opera, although it was composed 30 years later.
Based, as all good farces are, on mistaken identity, parody and final justice, it tells the story of Count Almaviva who arrives in town to woo Rosina who is the ward of the fat and lecherous Doctor Bartolo who also has designs on the beautiful Rosina. The count meets Figaro, the towns fixer, who offers to help and suggests a series of disguises for the Count in order to better pursue his amour – and the fun begins. Mark Milhofer was brilliant as Almaviva, appearing in a white suit and oiled hair like a cross between a demented Bryan Ferry and The Fonze always keen to sign autographs and show his latest CD. In fact there were many aspects which reminded me of the old American TV series Happy Days – the girls’ multi-petticoated skirts and head scarves and Figaro’s shiny Italian motor-scooter on which he made his first grand entrance. This was followed by his opening aria Largo al factotum which was incredible and I could almost feel my seat vibrating on the final note.
Laurence Dale’s direction was daring and audacious and worked every step of the way, enhanced by Gary McCann’s décor and costumes. The set itself worked brilliantly, consisting of three large triangular modules which were constantly moved to provide interiors or exteriors. Two of them contained, on one side, small, raised rooms and one of the funniest moments was at the actual marriage when the entire cast and chorus of twenty-odd Spanish policemen piled into the smallest one.
It would be impossible to fault any aspect of Nederlandse Reisoper’s Il Barbiere Di Siviglia so I urge you, if you get the chance, to see it. Michael Hasted 21st October 2019
Listen to ArtsTalk Radio’s interview with Nederlandse Reisopera’s director Nicolas Mansfield