Friday, September 16, 2022

The Barber of Seville


The Barber of Seville by Rossini.  Opera Australia on tour at Canberra Theatre Centre, September 15-17 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 15

Composer – Gioachino Rossini; Libretto – Cesare Sterbini
Conductor – Luke Spicer; Director – Priscilla Jackman
Set Designer – Michael Scott-Mitchell; Lighting Designer – Morgan Moroney
Costume Designer – Sabina Myers

Rosina – Esther Song; Count Almaviva – Nicholas Jones
Figaro – Haotian Qi; Dr Bartolo – Andrew Moran; Don Basilio – Shane Lowrencev
Fiorello & Coro – David King; Berta – Jennifer Black
Officer – Michael Lampard; Notary & Coro – Cathy-Di Zhang
Coro – John Longmuir; Coro – Andrew Williams; Coro – Dominica Matthews

Leader/Violin 1 – Matthew Rigby; Violin 2 – Phoebe Masel
Viola – Mariette Reefman; Cello – Stephanie Arnold
Double Bass – Hamish Gullick; Flute – Eliza Shephard
Oboe – An Nguyen; Clarinet 1 – Amy Whyte
Clarinet 2 – Jarrad Linke; Bassoon – Chris Martin
Keyboard – Jane Matheson
Orchestra Reduction – Simon Bruckard

Children’s Chorus: Woden Valley Youth Choir
Children’s Chorus Master – Kate Joy Stuart


This is how I might have imagined the style for The Barber of Seville in Rossini’s day:

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cerovic_designs • Accademia Costume & Moda


This is Opera Australia’s program centrefold picture of Rossini’s characters (the cast in this image are in their alternate roles which change from performance to performance):


Here we see a quite different style of costuming and characterisation.  Instead of a sophisticated version of Italian street theatre – commedia dell'arte – director Priscilla Jackson has shifted us from “Rossini’s Seville [as] a place of great fun, romance and the frolicking pleasures of life” and his “incredibly infectious and frothy music” to an absurdist modern comedy: “a world of ever moving delights, of intrigue, disguises, games, near catastrophes, amusing diversions, large moustaches, romps and romance”.  

Yet we must not forget the warning in Figaro the Barber’s final words:

Here is really the "Futile...


So happy a reunion
let us remember for ever.
I put out my lantern,
I am no longer needed.

while everyone sings again and again:

May love and faith eternal
reign in both your hearts.

not only to Rosina and Count Almaviva, but as an invocation to us all.  As Jackman writes, “In coming together as a community (moustaches and all), we are delighted to celebrate the whimsical games of love and connection with you through Rossini’s timeless, The Barber of Seville.”

The acting and choreography in this production are as excellent as the singing and the delightful small orchestra, but the extra level of absurdity which begins with everyone on stage wearing huge moustaches, and ends with an injunction to us – not in the original script, of course – to keep wearing our moustaches as we applaud, is a reminder.  Can we remain true to love and faith eternal, or will we need this Figaro again to light up his lantern?

Jackson notes that “it was interesting for us to reframe Rosina away from the damsel in distress needing to be rescued from the clutches of her controlling guardian, and create an environment for a more autonomous Rosina” who, in setting up her own business, is equal in status to the wealthy Count she loves, as he does her.  

The froth in the music becomes more substantial as the significance of the role of Figaro becomes clear.  There are four men with an interest in the woman, Rosina.  Her guardian, Bartolo, is a coercive controller.  His intention is to force Rosina to marry Don Basilio, an equally coercive controller.  The marriage would be a social status and maybe financial asset for Bartolo.  

Figaro, the barber who cuts every man’s hair, and thus knows the ways of all men, recognises the injustice of Rosina’s position and sees the genuine sincerity of Count Almaviva’s attraction to her, and of her response to him.  Though Almaviva is essentially naïve, Figaro takes a thoughtful, objective stand.  

He knows that, even if romance may not last forever, he has a duty to find a way to bring these two together because they are right for each other.

This, the good man behind the froth and often frantic comedy, is the achievement of Cesare Sterbini and Gioachino Rossini which makes The Barber of Seville timeless.  In our terms today, love is a human right; coercive control is at last a crime.  Figaro lives on.

Opera Australia offers us great entertainment, and more, in this engaging interpretation of The Barber of Seville.