Theatre Royal, Glasgow
It’s sixteen years since Sir Thomas Allen first staged his frisky production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for Scottish Opera, but the years have been good to it. This is its second revival and with a new cast to mould, a pithy English translation by Amanda Holden, and fresh thoughts on the pantomimic shenanigans of an opera he knows so well as a performer, Allen has given it a bright new sheen.
Visually, Simon Higlett’s set designs maintain a period solidity, the inner pandemonium of Dr Bartolo’s house, in which Rosina’s quarters are a mezzanine boudoir overlooking the pick’n’mix furnishings of the main living area. The latter provides a dynamic backdrop to a dynamic production.
Allen insists on detail, every one of his characters permanently up to something, even when they’re out of the spotlight. A jokey stumble here, a mischievous glance there. There’s almost too much going on at times to take it all in, but that’s the joy of it all, to stimulate sensory intoxication.
The casting is inspired, at the centre of which is a truly mesmerising Simone McIntosh as Rosina. She commands every scene she inhabits, a woman with enough guile to outsmart her ineptly predatory guardian Bartolo, but not without the gentlest of charm, and topped by a vocal performance capable of assimilating virtuosic agility with lyrical enchantment.
She’s just one of a winning team. David Stout’s Bartolo is a triumph of character, his delusional intentions towards his ward brilliantly amplified by impeccable comic timing. In tenor Anthony Gregory there’s a purposeful Count Almaviva, slightly sinister, mostly self-possessed, always on the look out for the next opportunity. After an edgy start on opening night, his voice relaxed into a seamless flow of bel canto.
Samuel Dale Johnson’s dashing Figaro also took time to settle vocally, but soon found its true mojo and a characterisation rich in humour and virile nuance. John Molloy presents Don Basilio as deliciously precious – pomposity combined with defensive intent. And it’s heartening to see such exemplary performances from Scottish Opera Emerging Artists Ross Cumming (unceasingly expressive as the Officer) and Ukrainian soprano Inna Husieva as Berta, whose sole aria is a wonderfully disarming oasis of reflection.
There are minor issues in balance between stage and pit that will doubtless calibrate themselves as the run progresses, but the Scottish Opera Orchestra under Stuart Stratford’s direction is as lively and receptive as the theatrical spectacle on stage. This is a operatic comedy at its best, literally laugh-a-minute.
(Picture credit: James Glossop)
Scottish Opera’s The Barber of Seville is in Glasgow till 22 October; Edinburgh 3-11 Nov; Inverness 16 & 18 Nov; Aberdeen 23 & 25 Nov. Full details at www.scottishopera.co.uk