The Welsh National Opera brought Rossini's timeless opera into the 21st Century with a contemporary production that still remains faithful to Rossini's original vision
For an opera that is over 205 years old, the Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville felt compelling and relevant for a modern audience. This was my first time watching an opera live after many years of waiting for the perfect introduction, however, I came away thoroughly engaged by the virtuosic performances, Rossini’s timeless score and the ensemble of distinct and memorable characters
The WNO returned to the Mayflower Theatre on the 5th November with their acclaimed production first performed in 1986. Based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ play of the same name, Rossini’s opera follows the misadventures of the titular barber Figaro (Nicholas Lester) as he assists the Count Almaviva (Nico Darmanin) in winning the affection of Rosina (Isabelle Peters), all while avoiding the suspicions of the esteemed physician Dr. Bartolo (Andrew Shore), Rosina’s guardian and planned suitor.
The set and costumes were beautifully designed and constructed, perfectly depicting 18th Century Spain while the design of the set itself with its three distinct levels representing the three main characters was used effectively throughout the production, such as the opening scene where Rosina is literally out of Almaviva’s reach on the highest floor. The chorus of the WNO also doubled as a metafictional ‘audience’, sat patiently waiting in the wings of the stage facing the set and regularly rotating round and performing background tasks. These minor roles occasionally crossed over into the development of the main plot, such as a bartender inspiring Figaro’s plot to disguise Almaviva as a drunk soldier, which I found to be an ingenious use of staging.
Rossini’s expert orchestration was brilliantly brought to life by a tight orchestra and complimented the action on stage. Strong musical performances were given throughout, with special mention to Lester who delivered a convincing performance of Figaro’s challenging Aria in Act One as well as Lowe who was a strong female lead as Rosina. Shore gave an exceptional performance as Dr. Bartolo and delivered the comedic aspects of the character convincingly. There were many occasions where the audience erupted into laughter at the perfect comedic timing and chemistry between each of the lead performers.
Thanks to a translated libretto by Robert David Macdonald, the humour of Rossini’s original was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience and accompanying surtitles during the main arias was a welcome addition. Some contextual humour was added to the production that would appeal more to a modern audience, such as the closing line ‘leave the rest to Mozart’, referencing Mozart’s earlier opera The Marriage of Figaro that was based on the second part of Beaumarchais’ trilogy of ‘Figaro’ plays. This was very well received by the audience. It was disappointing that the surtitles often dropped out during some of the recitative sections, and during most of the ensemble numbers that featured independent parts – ironically this was where I found myself most in need of the surtitles in order to ensure I had not missed an important plot point. Regardless, I was still able to confidently follow the action on stage throughout the production.
Witty, dynamic and timeless, The Barber of Seville is the perfect introduction to the world of opera and the WNO succeeded in the task of bringing one of the classics of the operatic canon to life.
The Welsh National Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville will be playing for a final matinee performance on 6 November at the Mayflower Theatre and at later dates in Oxford and Llandudno until 2 December. You can book tickets here.
The Welsh National Opera Orchestra will also be returning to Southampton on 13 January 2022 at Turner Sims for a concert entitled Return to Vienna. You can book tickets here.