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Reviews

<em>Il barbiere di Siviglia</em>: Glyndebourne Touring Opera at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
05 Nov 2017

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Il barbiere di Siviglia: Glyndebourne Touring Opera at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Laura Verrecchia (Rosina) and Tobias Greenhalgh (Figaro)

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

In May last year, I admired the visual beauty of Joanna Parker’s set designs but lamented the lack of genuine human comedy. It’s interesting, 18 months on, to see how and to what extent one’s memories have been preserved, and whether a different venue and cast can produce a fresh response. My first impression was that the smaller dimensions of the Marlowe Theatre stage brought about a more engaging intimacy and also prevented excessive gag-spinning. As Count Almaviva prepared to storm Rosina’s heart with a stylish serenade, the antics of Fiorello’s guitar-band and the three extravagantly costumed supernumeraries who facilitate the Count’s chair-by-chair advance on the flower-bedecked balcony of the beloved’s boudoir, seemed less fussy and distracting - the faux auditioning and ‘tuning up’ was less cumbersome, the comic antics more subdued but focused. Moreover, from my elevated vantage point in the Circle, I could enjoy the decorative floor patterns which reflect the elaborate wall designs and add to the general air of luxurious ease.

Subsequently, the trio of ‘extras’ swapped their extravagant theatrical masks and head-pieces for every-day overalls and involved themselves in the comic carryings-on without becoming overly intrusive. The harpsichords that they originally carted to and fro, at times distracting from the ‘business’ of the arias, persist, and their presence/function remains a mystery; but there are fewer of them. The first ribbon-bedecked keyboard imported into Bartolo’s house is supplemented by a second during the Act 1 finale - its conveyance and disassembly contributes to the general inanity - and complemented in the closing moments of the Act by a third which descends from the heavens and pins down the bewildered Bartolo. But, this is a veritable sparsity of keyboards compared to the riot of winging, swinging, upside-down instruments which populated Bartolo’s house last time around.

Barber cast Cooper.jpg Cast of GTO’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Aside from Adam Marsden, a member of the Glyndebourne Chorus, who competently reprises the role of the Officer, Janis Kelly is the only member of the original cast to repeat her role. Once again, she gives a masterclass in comic judgement, as Berta flits charmingly between staid disapproval and self-indulgent caprice, joining Rosina in a flighty fandango and reliving the amorous escapades of her youth in an Act 2 aria in which her memories are given fresh impetus by the chivalrous aid of the supernumeraries who take time off from furniture-removing to sashay with the tartan-suited dame.

Janis Kelly as Berta.jpg Janis Kelly (Berta). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

The ‘in-jokes’ are out; so, whereas last time round Act 2 opened in the Library with Bartolo retreating beneath the table to comfort himself with a picnic hamper - in imitation of the chuckling Glyndebourne patrons who’d just ‘enjoyed’ a down-pour disrupted long interval - now he had only a bottle of whiskey for company; and, this was quickly filched by the opportunistic men-about-the-house, ‘waking’ from their shut-eye when the boss’s eye was detained elsewhere.

The cast sing beguilingly but are not all equally commanding in dramatic terms. Jack Swanson is a youthful Count - indeed his fresh-faced innocence seems far too unworldly and pure to attract the headstrong Rosina’s attention - and while he sings accurately and with a clean tone, despite his glamorous floor-length silver coat Swanson doesn’t yet have the vocal swagger or sophistication to convey Almaviva’s guile and allure. He can essay romantic dreaminess in the quieter phrases of ‘Ecco, ridente in cielo’ but some of the phrasing lacks shapeliness. Moreover, he is woefully undirected during the disguise episodes. As Figaro, Tobias Greenhalgh similarly sings with youthful litheness but lacks sufficient dramatic weight to stamp his dominance on the intrigue. Last time round, Björn Bürger engaged in some wry flirtation with Danielle de Niese’s knowing Rosina, but Greenhalgh’s half-hearted hip-bumping in ‘Dunque io son ... tu non m’inganni?’ seemed naively harmless in comparison. Both young Americans sing well, but lack vigour and presence.

Lindoro and Bartolo.jpgJack Swanson (Count Almaviva) and Marco Filippo Romano (Dr Bartolo). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Marco Filippo Romano is, however, excellent as a cantankerous Bartolo, eschewing buffo hyperbole for credible indignation and pique, and rattling off the patter with aplomb. Anatoli Sivko is, likewise, a mean and miserly Basilio, but if his bass is quite light and self-contained this only serves to make the dramatic excesses of ‘La Calunnia’ more telling: as the pungent smoke wafts from the music-master’s cassock, Basilio seems delightfully oblivious to this snide comment on his ridiculous huffing, puffing and rumour-mongering.

Laura Verrecchia’s Rosina is less extrovert than de Niese’s unrestrained, over-excited diva, but this Rosina certainly knows her own mind and when things go awry she can take proceedings into her own hands. Verrecchia has a strikingly dark and densely layered mezzo, all amber and honey. I feared at first that it would prove too heavy a voice to flit with agility through Rossini’s sparkling coloratura, but my doubts were unwarranted, for what she lacked in glitter at the top Verrecchia more than compensated for with style and accuracy.

Laura V Act 1.jpg Laura Verrecchia (Rosina). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra despatched the tricky overture with impressive ease, despite the racy tempos established by conductor Ben Gernon. The rather dry acoustic of the theatre aided the clarity of Rossini’s bravura motifs and there was some tremendously precise woodwind and horn playing, which did not lack grace and panache.

Barber end of Act 1 Bill Cooper.jpg End of Act 1. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Despite this, however, the act finales never quite caught fire. Necessarily simplified stage business might have been to blame; perhaps individuals needed more precise directional guidance. Whatever, the chaotic confusion which should sweep through Bartolo’s house at the end of Act 1 failed to materialise, despite the strong choral singing of the chorus of policemen. Similarly, the surtitles often lagged behind the action. But, this did not seem to hinder the comprehension of the Canterbury audience, nor diminish their enjoyment; the cast and orchestra were met with effusive, warm applause at the curtain call and no doubt this will be replicated as the Glyndebourne tour continues its travels.

Claire Seymour

Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia

Fiorello - Michael Wallace, Count Almaviva - Jack Swanson, Figaro - Tobias Greenhalgh, Rosina - Laura Verrecchia, Dr Bartolo - Marco Filippo Romano, Berta - Janis Kelly, Basilio - Anatoli Sivko, Officer - Adam Marsden, Actors - Jofre Caraben van der Meer, Steve Johnstone, Maxime Nourissat; director - Annabel Arden, conductor - Ben Gernon, revival director - Sinéad O’Neill, designer - Joanna Parker, movement director - Toby Sedgwick, revival movement director - Maxime Nourissat, lighting director - James Farncomne, revival lighting director - David Manion, Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus (chorus master - Nicholas Jenkins).

The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; Saturday 4th November 2017.

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