Gallery and review: The Barber of Seville, Welsh National Opera, Birmingham Hippodrome

Welsh National brings its Figaro Forever season to the Hippodrome this week. It’s a collection of three operas which set out to examine the appeal of one of opera’s most endearing characters, and looks at his lust for life and his predilection for matchmaking and mischief.

Gallery and review: The Barber of Seville, Welsh National Opera, Birmingham Hippodrome

Nicholas Lester (Figaro). Pic: Richard Hubert Smith

All three operas are based on original plays by French author Pierre de Beaumarchais. Le Barbier de Seville led to Rossini’s opera of the same name, La folle Journee was used as the basis of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and La Mere coupable, along with Horvath’s 1936 drama, FIgaro’s Divorce, has provided the inspiration for the new opera Figaro Gets a Divorce.

The Rossini production got off to a flying start as the well-known overture revealed a male chorus brandishing very large pairs of scissors in some neatly co-ordinated manoeuvres.

Director Sam Brown presents Figaro as a youthful entrepreneur, the most fashionable hairdresser in Seville who has developed a handy side-line in potions and pills for all sorts of ailments, to the annoyance of people in the medical profession.

Figaro is persuaded to help Count Almaviva, who has plans to marry wealthy heiress Rosina, but he has to get her out of the clutches of her guardian, Dr Bartolo, who also wants to marry her for her dowry.

Almaviva is disguised as a drunken boy scout and then a blind music teacher and there’s no doubt that the comic opportunities are very important to the pace and feel of this production, though perhaps this was sometimes to the detriment of the music.   While the scenes with the two puppet dogs and the slow-motion sequence at the end of Act One were very funny, the touches of farce, slap-stick and pantomime sometimes got in the way of hearing the music at its best.

Nicholas Lester demonstrated a powerful baritone voice which successfully caught the spirit of the young, go-getting businessman. Claire Booth showed impressive coloratura as Rosina. Nico Darmanin, as Almaviva, occasionally sounded a little thin at the top of his register and Andrew Shore, as Dr Bartolo, made the most of the humour provided by his role.

Conductor James Southhall and the Welsh National Orchestra gave a vivacious account of Rossini’s music.

Figaro Forever continues with The Marriage of Figaro on Wednesday and Saturday, The Barber of Seville on Friday and Figaro Gets a Divorce on Thursday.

By Jerald Smith

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