Saturday, September 17, 2022

THE BARBER OF SEVILLE - Opera Australia Touring Production.


Nicholas Jones, Haotian Qi and Esther Song and Company in the finale scene of  "The Barber of Seville". 

Composed by Gioachino Rossini – Libretto by Cesare Sterbini

Conducted by Luke Spicer – Directed by Priscilla Jackman

Set Design by Michael Scott Mitchell – Costume Design by Sabina Myers

Lighting Design by Morgan Moroney.

Canberra Theatre 15th – 17th September, 2022

Opening night performance on 15th September reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Priscilla Jackman’s scintillating production of “The Barber of the Seville” has been touring Australia since July 2022. These four performances in the Canberra Theatre are the last of the current tour. As a strategy to avoid Covid cancellations, the production boasts two complete casts, who alternate performances. Those playing principal roles at one performance alternate as ensemble for the next.

As both casts contain some of Opera Australia’s most experienced principal singers together with some if its brightest young emerging soloists. This is luxury casting for any touring production, and it’s not only the audience which benefits, but also the singers who appear to revel in the opportunity to participate in Jackman’s delightfully wacky shenanigans.

It was an inspired decision by Jackman to set her production in the famous Victorian Yarra Valley wine region where a town called Seville actually exists. In this Seville, Rosina runs her own cellar door under the watchful eye of her guardian, town physician, Dr. Bartolo and Figaro runs his pop-up barber-shop from his bicycle.

Andrew Moran (Dr Bartolo) - Esther Song (Rosina)

Michael Scott-Mitchell gets into the mood with a witty setting which vaguely hints at early Australiana, with many components manoeuvred manfully by the hard-working cast to represent any number of locations and packed full of delightful visual surprises.

For her contribution, costume designer Sabina Myers also disregards any pretension of historical accuracy for a riotous collection of clashing colours, dominated by fluorescent pink which she used liberally for clothes, wigs and even outrageous moustaches for the whole cast, which make their first playful appearance during the overture.

Only Morgan Moroney’s rather gloomy lighting design seemed at odds with the comic-book mood of the rest of the production.

Haotian Qi ( Figaro) - Esther Song (Rosina)

On opening night the heroine and cellar-door proprietor, Rosina, was performed by Esther Song who impressed, not only with her mastery of bel canto which allowed her to confidently perform Rossini’s difficult and delightful arias with apparent ease, but also with her comedic talents which she brought to her deliciously cheeky characterisation. 

Matching her as her wily, inventive suitor, Count Almaviva, Nicholas Jones offered a superbly sung, confident comedic performance, even if his many disguises didn’t fool anyone.

Despite his very fine voice, agreeable presence and ability to execute the direction accurately, Haotian Qi seemed miscast as Figaro, the local barber and general busybody.  The character of Figaro should dominate any production of “The Barber of Seville”.  Given the general style of the piece, Haotian Qi’s characterisation needed rather more swagger and bravado to prevent him from being overshadowed by the other characters in this production.

Andrew Moran (Dr Bartolo) - Shane Lowrencev (Don Basilio_

Among those characters, Andrew Moran as Rosina's guardian Dr. Bartolo; Shane Lowrencev in a scene-stealing turn as Rosina’s music teacher,  Don Basilio; David King as Fiorello; Michael Lampard as the Officer; and especially Jennifer Black as the cook and housekeeper, Berta; all offered entertaining characterisations;  and it was fun to spot alternate cast principals  John Longmuir, Andrew Williams and Dominica Matthews trying desperately not to be recognised while pushing and pulling scenery, but adding their fine voices to the ensemble mix.

As is established custom with Opera Australia touring productions, children from local choirs are given the opportunity to participate in these productions. For the Canberra performances, members of the Woden Valley Youth Choir proved admiral as enthusiastic members of the community of Seville.

And finally, the icing on the cake, the small but very fine orchestra, conducted by Luke Spicer, which from the very first notes of the overture, ensured that Rossini’s miraculous score was performed, not only with accuracy and precision, but as delightfully cheekily as the composer intended.   


                                                       Images by Jeff Busby

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.