Opera Reviews
13 August 2020
Untitled Document

A joyous performance

by Catriona Graham
Rossini: The Barber of Seville
English Touring Opera
Perth Festival of the Arts
May 2012

Photo: English Touring Opera Tenors are wet - and, in English Touring Opera's production of The Barber of Seville, Nicholas Sharratt starts off proving the truth of the assertion. Dressed in brown, he is barely in control of the musicians his servant Fiorello has hired to help him serenade his beloved. That she, Rosina, is thrilled to be wooed by such a wimp only shows how desperate she regards her situation.

However, as the enamoured Count Almaviva, aided by the enterprising Figaro (Cosmin Sime), tries a variety of stratagems to spring Rosina from her guardian's clutches, he grows in stature - or maybe clothes really do make the man.

Rhys Jarman's design features an arrangement of pale painted flats which move to construct a square in Seville or the inside of Dr Bartolo's house. The latter is still being decorated, hence the step-ladder with buckets of paint swinging from the brace-bar. Through the open doors, a row of soldier-patients awaits the ministrations of the doctor (Andrew Slater). His attention is divided, however, as he scolds his ward - a masterly display of patter-singing and irascibility.

As Rosina, Kitty Whately is fourteen going on forty, mixing teenage rebellion and petulance with sophisticated aplomb - often in the same sentence. Her voice is fresh and pretty, as befits the character and she balances well with Sharratt. Cheryl Enever's Berta, the servant, is harassed and somewhat irritated by her employer and his patients - besides, the smell of paint is getting right up her nose.

After Almaviva infiltrates the house pretending to be a drunken soldier finding his billet and is subsequently unmasked as an impostor, the ensuing ensemble is sung while Guy Hoare's lighting throws nightmare-ish Goya-esque shadows on the backcloth.

The third of Figaro's happy ideas is for Almaviva to impersonate a music teacher in lieu of Don Basilio, who is aiding DR Bartolo in his plans to marry his ward. As such, Sharratt is unctuous in the extreme, and no-one could blame Dr Bartolo for getting annoyed. It hardly allays his suspicions, of course and, as the doctor edges his chair nearer and nearer the harpsichord where the lovers are seated, one is almost expecting Figaro to lather thin air instead of his customer.

But DR Bartolo is not above stratagems of his own and has a notary come to the house to solemnise the marriage contract. This is intercepted by Almaviva and he marries his Rosina. Yet again the soldiers are summoned to the house. Yet again, the officer moves to arrest the interloper, yet again Almaviva shows his papers and the officer kowtows.

Conductor Paul McGrath - recently appearing on TV as a coach in the conducting reality show MAESTRO - keeps all together in the rather awkward space of Perth Theatre's pit, the instruments in the stalls boxes having perhaps not the best view of the baton.

Directed by Thomas Guthrie, it's a joyous piece, lacking malice even in the thwarting of Dr Bartolo. Pity we already know that they don't live happily ever after.

Text © Catriona Graham
Photo English Touring Opera
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