It is not often that you hear opera audiences offer up more than a genteel titter or maybe a stifled giggle at an inopportune solemn moment.
There were however, plenty of hearty chuckles and the odd belly laugh at a sold-out house in Wexford throughout the opening night of Wide Open Opera’s new production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville.
Despite the designation, there’s not been much opera heard at the National Opera House outside the annual October festival dedicated to rare work. “Well at least we’ll recognise some of the tunes tonight,” commented a Statler and Waldorf-type in the bar beforehand.
Director, Michael Barker-Caven updates the plot to 1970s Spain during the death throes of the Franco era. Dr Bartolo becomes a Stigwood- inspired producer, and Rosina his starlet protégé, confined to the studio recording her latest disc, amid an entourage of hippy-dippy chicks and hirsute pro-democracy demonstrators. It doesn’t all fit perfectly with the original 18th century conceit, but it’s good unpretentious fun and the fizz in the farce lasts over an almost three hour duration.
From his first entrance in a mode of transport fit for a hippy festival habitué, Kerry baritone Gavan Ring’s lounge-lizard Figaro owns the stage. His ‘Barber’ is warm and very funny. Tara Erraught made the demanding coloratura role of Rosina seem effortless. The inclusion of the rarely heard Act 2 aria ‘Ah, se è ver’ imbues her character with a more three dimensional quality than usual. Graeme Danby’s sonorous bass voice as Bartolo proved surprisingly supple in his patter numbers. Tyler Nelson, as Almaviva, seemed a little pressed by conductor Fergus Shiel’s brisk Act 1 tempos but the American soon settled into his stride.
Aside from the excellent solo performances, the quality of nicely shaped crescendos in the ensemble numbers was among the many pleasures of the evening. Superb.
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