Arts Review: The Barber of Seville – Opera Australia, Sydney (Performances to 22nd March)

Some fun facts about The Barber of Seville that I didn’t know going in is that it is based on a novel and is actually the prequel for The Marriage of Figaro, despite Seville being the work of Rossini and Figaro of Mozart. Having of course seen Opera Australia’s The Marriage of Figaro last year it was a lot of fun to see more of the untold story of the characters in this latest production!

The Barber of Seville has that same sort of humour and happiness about it (yes happiness, a rarity in opera!) but is perhaps far more… unpredictable? There are moments of on-scene chaos that really can’t be described as anything less than organized ridiculousness. It’s fun to watch of course, but there are several moments when you’re just like “I have absolutely no idea what’s going on why are there so many people in this house”. Definitely fun though.

Opera AustraliaThe Barber of Seville

The set design is incredible, with some wonderful little puppetry work (which delighted the audience greatly) before the whole stage became a giant dolls house.

Opera AustraliaThe Barber of Seville

Musically the opera opens with a fabulous overture, which as it turns out was not originally composed for the opera as the original overture was lost and Rossini simply replaced it with another that he had written. Thus none of the music from the overture is in the opera itself, which is a bit of a shame as it features this wonderful chase between violins…

The actual opera itself is just as fabulous as the overture though, and really is a test of breathing endurance and lung capacity vocally. Most of the songs seems to feature at least one requirement for the performer to hold a ridiculously long note, or sing extraordinarily fast for an extended period. The style overall is quite fast for an opera, with songs moving along and the general pacing of the music rapid and jolly. It’s also quite dialogue driven for an opera, with much focus on interactions between characters and the relationships between them.

Opera AustraliaThe Barber of Seville

Speaking of the characters, the cast was simply wonderful! Kenneth Tarver gave Count Almaviva the voice of a true charmer, and he was well matched by the cheeky notes of Anna Dowsley as Rosina. Warwick Fyfe brings an outstanding performance to Dr Bartolo, who you both dislike but don’t really dislike- although he is the “bad” character his intentions are not really evil, and he’s more awkward then scheming really.

Opera AustraliaThe Barber of Seville

Bringing in much of the audience’s love though, was the hilariously devoid servant Ambrogio (Samuel Dundas) who heaved and sighed and dragged his way across the stage, staying in character right through his jaded bow at curtain call.

But really this is Figaro’s show, and by golly is Paolo Bordogna a perfect Figaro. And wonderfully enough, he was also the Figaro I saw back in Marriage– which made it all the more perfect! Aside from his absolutely outstanding talents vocally, Bordogna has such a talent for characterization. His Figaro is cheeky and delightful, with a smile that could no doubt blind those even in the very back seats. At the conclusion of his “Largo al Factotum” the crowd’s defeaning applause went on so long that Bordogna gave a little Figaro-like smirk to his fellow performers, gesturing a little “eh” and a wink in their direction.

Opera AustraliaThe Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville is a fun, fast-paced opera, with much laughter and giggles and many breathless moments of vocal talent. You don’t have to have seen The Marriage of Figaro of course but the two together certainly make you fall even more for the characters. Particularly that charming barber, “Ah bravo Figaro!”

The Barber of Seville will be playing at the Sydney Opera House until the 22nd March. For more information visit www.opera.org.au

The reviewer attended the Opening Night performance on the 28th January.

Photo credit: ©Keith Saunders