Opera Review







The Barber of Seville




Rossini      Sterbini

Director: Jonathan Miller; Revival by Ian Rutherford


Designer: Tanya McCallin

Conductor: Rory Macdonald

Lighting: Tom Mannings; Revival by Martin Doone


London Coliseum


22 September – 10 October, 2008









A review by Barry Grantham for EXTRA! EXTRA!


The plot of Beaumarchais’ play, on which the opera is based, has its roots in the Commedia dell’Arte; a point that is clarified in the ENO’s excellent programme.

It has its Innamorata and Innamorato: she charming and witty and scornful of authority, he somewhat inane until he shows his mettle in a series of quite ridiculous disguises. It has its comic Vecchio; fooled and foolish in Dr Bartolo and its Zanni in Figaro himself. I think the programme notes are mistaken in paralleling Bartolo with the ‘Mask’ of Pantalone, who as Shakespeare reminds us is ‘.lean and slippered’ and too mean in spirit to enjoy the comforts of the lushly appointed apartment we see.  The rotund and extrovert Bartolo, with his inclination to perform (his falsetto aping of a castrato of an earlier period) is closer to the role of the Doctor Graziano.  (That Beaumarchais gives him the title of Dr might support this)  Again, Figaro has few of the attributes of the acrobatic, dim-witted , ever hungry, Harlequin. Closer, is the far less well-known, Burattino, a ‘Mask’ usually taking on the roles of chef, shopkeeper, and certainly barber.   None of this effects our enjoyment of the performance by one iota.

Let us reverse the usual order of things and start with someone usually left till the end, if mentioned at all - the lighting designer. It is, in this case, not clear where to give the praise; the original version was by Tom Mannings and it has been revived by Martin Doone. Wherever, it is quite superb.  Comedy needs bright light. It is often better to settle for a full-up as we must see the actor’s faces. The team here contrive to give us that advantage with subtle variations and barely perceptible changes of emphasis, and in a set that cannot have been easy.  That brings us to the designer, Tanya McCallin; .again, unstinting praise.  Really there is but one set, but we see both the exterior of Dr Bartolo’s Palazzo, ancient and austere, and the interior of cultivated luxury. Here are comfortable chairs, a delightfully over-ornamented harpsichord and at the back, glass cupboards crammed with objects indicative of humanist aspirations (again Graziano, not Pantalone).  Costumes are splendid. Especially of the chorus in their white and red Granadier’s (?) uniforms. Surely the most ridiculous of all the military garb of the 18th century.

Now we’ll celebrate an outstanding young conductor, Rory MacDonald. With unflagging zeal he took us through the opera, controlling tempo and volume to a nicety, bringing out the individual timbres of the instruments and enlivening Rossini’s sometimes unsophisticated score. Under his guidance the ENO orchestra played superbly.

Yes, we’re getting to the cast. First, the Dr Bartolo of Andrew Shore with a great comic performance – what good actors these singers be – and, unlike some of our straight actors,  not afraid to go the whole Commedia hog   True, too, of John Tessier as  Count Almaviva, noble as the hero, and hilarious in disguise as the drunken dragoon and the squeaky voiced music teacher parrying the questions of Bartolo as he courts the beautiful Rosina.  And beautiful, is Anna Grevelius as the heiress; of face and form, of movement and of manner.  Is it churlish to mention that it is in the manner of the recent past, rather than of the eighteenth century?   I should mention in this connection Julian Hubbard in the small role of the servant Fiorello, with perfect Baroque movement.  I have difficulty in appraising the performance of Garry Magee in the part of Figaro. I confess I have always found the role tedious in the extreme. (That is on the three times I remember seeing the opera) and although Mr Magee gave a solid and worthy rendition, it didn’t do anything to change my mind.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the singing. This is an opera after all!

It was exceedingly competent, no-one sang badly – there were moments of beauty, especially from John Tessier, and the chorus were superbly drilled, but I cannot say there was anything to thrill, to excite or remember with joy. Oh, yes, there was an exception; I will remember the wonderful performance, both vocally and as characterisation of Brindley Sherratt as the rascally Don Basilio.




Dates:  Sep.22, 7.30pm, Sep.25, 7.30pm, Sep.27, 7.30pm
Oct.02,7.30pm. Oct.04,6.30pm. Oct.08,7.30pm.

Venue:     ENO at the Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane,London WC2N 4ES

Box Office: 0871 911 0200       


Tickets:  £10 - £80  Ring box office for concessions.





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