Opera Reviews
2 March 2024
Untitled Document

An explosion of colour

by Michael Sinclair
Rossini: The Barber of Seville
New Zealand Opera
ASB Theatre, Auckland
6 June 2019
Morgan Pearse (Figaro), Andrew Collis (Dr Bartolo)

A perennial favourite, Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville has arrived in New Zealand for performances in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, having first been performed by Opera Queensland in 2016. Based on the reception at the opening night performance in Auckland, audiences across the country are in for a treat.

Director Lindy Hume staged an extremely successful production of La Cenerentola for NZ Opera in 2015 and this Barber of Seville shares its exacting attention to detail, keeping the eye constantly entertained while Rossini works his musical magic. The setting is vaguely Spanish and might well be set at the time of the work’s composition. But Hume is too clever to leave it at that with numerous witty anachronisms (including a vacuum cleaner, plastic cleaning materials and telephones), costuming that is often far from the 19th century and an over-the-top directorial approach that constantly throws caution to the wind. However, Hume is an assured director and is able to meld all these layers of detail into a unified whole that delights, amuses and entertains all at the same time.

While Rossini described his opera as a dramma giocoso (drama with jokes) what we have here is pure farce. The entire cast worked extremely hard from Figaro’s energetic entrance through the audience, to the antics of the hapless servant Ambrogio, who almost stole the show as he hung from the chandelier at the end of Act I in a moment of utter madness. But that’s Rossini, and every element of this infectious comedy was brilliantly delivered from beginning to end.

Designer Tracy Grant Lord has created a whimsical set that resembles a patchwork quilt made up of doors, shutters and blinds, which on the one hand epitomise Rosina’s entrapment, while also offering innumerable entrances and exits for the busy cast. When the doors open we get a peek into Dr Bartolo’s many-roomed house with its garish flock and flower patterned decorations. Overall this is a colourful production, beautifully lit by Matthew Marshall throughout. The costumes reflect the set designs with their vibrant colours – red, pink and blue dominate – culminating in a final exuberant scene that could have come straight from the Folies Bergère.

The danger with such an in-your-face production is that the music gets somewhat lost, and to a certain extent that was the case here. After a slightly ponderous account of the overture, Wyn Davies and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra settled down to offer a lively account of the score, but nevertheless one that always seemed to play second fiddle to the action on stage.

On the other hand, the cast all threw themselves energetically into the production and largely delivered both vocally and dramatically. Morgan Pearse was an extremely likeable Figaro using his svelte baritone voice to convey effectively both the humanity and joie-de-vivre of the character. He was clearly an audience favourite, and rightly so. Sandra Piques Eddy was a pert, flirtatious Rosina displaying a rich mezzo voice that was even throughout the range and a delight to listen to. John Tessier’s Almaviva was a little generic in terms of characterisation and he didn’t really come across as an ardent young lover, but his refined tenor made up for these shortfalls. Andrew Collis and Ashraf Sewailam brought experience to their roles of Dr Bartolo and Don Basilio respectively, oily on the one hand, and sinewy on the other – just what Rossini intended. Morag Atchison’s chain-smoking Berta was an utter joy. She combined with Jesse Wikiriwhi’s infelicitous Ambrogio to ensure that the Bartolo household was always one step away from chaos, mayhem and intrigue. Her rendition of “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” in Act II certainly found favour with Ambrogio!

If at times over-the-top, this Barber of Seville nevertheless lived up to its billing as being “riotously funny” and sent the audience out into a cold winter’s evening with a smile on their faces and warmth in their hearts.

Text © Michael Sinclair
Photo © David Rowland
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