English National Opera: The Barber of Seville at the London Coliseum

Mischievous, mellifluous musical fun: classical music blogger Sonny Williamson reviews the English National Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville at the London Coliseum.

Italian composer Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is one of the most famous and loved operas in the repertoire and the pinnacle of the “Opera Buffa” genre (essentially Italian comic opera). A hit with audiences from its second 1816 performance (the premier was something of a disaster) right up to the present day, it has been delighting music lovers from all walks of life with its light-hearted hijinks throughout the 19th, 20th and now 21st Centuries, right up to the final English National Opera performance I experienced at the Coliseum.

“This is opera at its cheeky best.”

This is the work that probably most epitomises the picture many people have of light-hearted opera: wigged aristocracy and their wily servants getting up to all sorts of japes and misadventures, usually involving complicated romantic entanglements and cases of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and inter-class misunderstandings. This is opera at its cheeky best.

This work – along with that other high watermark of the genre, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – deals with the artfully crafty character of Figaro, the eponymous barber who in this tale comes up with a plan to help his friend and erstwhile employer the Count Almaviva meet with his paramour Rosina, who is being kept locked away by her ward Dr. Bartolo, who wants her for himself. All for a tidy fee, of course.

The show is packed with friendly and familiar tunes and the libretto abounds with cheeky turns and bawdy fun from start to finish. The uniformly wonderful cast were simply having a blast with this material and as it was the final night of the run, were really letting rip and having as much fun as possible, which meant all of us in the audience were too.

This was a revival of the hugely popular Jonathan Miller production that is set firmly in its late-18th Century roots, with no modernist take on the traditional setting. There’s really little need, as the story is very much a child of its era and by embracing it fully the crew and audience are free to enjoy it on its own, hilarious and endearing terms.

“…another fine show by the ENO.”

The ever excellent ENO orchestra and sparkling score was deftly conducted by Christopher Allen, who kept things skipping along appropriately. The whole cast were on fine form, with particular praise for ENO favourite Andrew Shore in one of his signature roles as Dr Bartolo, who had the place in stitches. Former ENO Harewood Artist Kathryn Rudge relished the playfully manipulative Rosina and Morgan Pearse tackled the tricky turns and tumbles of the barber’s baritone braggadocio with aplomb.

All in all, a delightful evening’s entertainment at the opera and another fine show by the ENO. If you get the chance to see this opera when it comes back around, grab it and go have fun, even if you’ve never been to the opera before. Not many operas are an unadulterated barrel of laughs, but Figaro will do it every time.

Rossini's The Barber of Seville | ENO

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