Barber of Seville (or Salisbury), review

The Little Opera House at The King’s Head Theatre
Dir: Robin Norton-Hale

Drinks allowed in the auditorium, an unsightly squabble over seats and your standard upright piano in the corner. This is certainly not Covent Garden.

The Barber of Seville Kings Head TheatreFor the opening of London’s newest (and smallest) opera house, director Robin Norton-Hale brings us this cheeky new translation of Rossini’s classic comic opera. The Barber of Seville becomes the Barber of Salisbury and Rossini’s lothario, Count Almaviva, becomes the Marquis of Bath. Having caught a glimpse of the beautiful Rosina, the Marquis is determined to seduce her. He enlists the help of Figaro, the barber, to win her hand and defeat his rival, Rosina’s guardian Dr Bartley (originally Bartolo).

OperaUpClose lives up to its name: singers wander through the audience, advising on hair care, sharing a joke. Figaro, sung by Richard Immergluck, throws himself into the part of compere: this level of audience interaction is a world away from the big opera houses. Belinda Evans as Rosina is the best kind of Jane Austen heroine: “accomplished” but with an undeniable glint in her eye: ‘this little lamb is not so pure’ she sings in her rich soprano. Gareth Dafydd Morris as the serial seducer, the Marquis, has impressive stage presence, though his voice sometimes feels a bit much for this small space.

This production really comes into its own, however, during the ensemble scenes: Norton-Hale’s staging is excellently judged with a priceless sense for the ridiculous. The opera’s finale is tightly directed and fizzes with a tangible energy. Dickon Gough makes Bartley a wonderfully absurd, pompous lecher, complete with slicked back hair and nervous twitches. Overall, this is uproariously funny, thanks partly to Norton-Hale’s irreverent new libretto which includes such lines as “chicken soup and a cold compress” or “You’re the doctor? Dr Farty.”

This is not Covent Garden: the piano (played by Alison Luz) was not the best and some of the singing felt strained. But then opera is not easy – and up close there’s no disguising that. Volume was an issue: Dafydd Morris in particular needed to be quieter and some of Belinda Evans’ top notes were designed for a traditional auditorium. Norton-Hale’s production got off to an uncertain start but strong ensemble sections lifted the evening. This may not have been as polished as Jane Austen’s prose but it had plenty of Regency wit.

This review first appeared on ThePublicReviews.com

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