Review: Well-worn production of ‘Barber’ draws roars of laughter

opera Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”, conducted by Andrea Molino, direction by Elijah Mojinsky/revival direction Hugh Halliday, for Opera Australia. At the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until March 22, Reviewed by Helen […]

Kenneth Tarver  as Count Almaviva, photo Keith Saunders

THIS production is largely an oldie but a goodie and Elijah Mojinsky’ s 1995 production of “The Barber of Seville” drew roars of approval from the first night audience at Sydney Opera House on Thursday.

Anna Dowsley as Rosina and Paolo Bordogna as Figaro, photo Keith Saunders

Anna Dowsley as Rosina and Paolo Bordogna as Figaro, photo Keith Saunders

And no wonder. The costume designer Dona Granata drew on a 1920s theme, and the clever setting by Michael Yeargan made use a number of European silent film theatre conventions, including puppetry, to conjure up the fictional setting for this silliest of operas – and that’s saying something. The ‘period’ wallpaper must be the ugliness ever seen on the stage of the  Opera House, but fits the theme.

In this revival, baritone Paolo Bordogna plays the general factotum and barber of the title, Figaro, audacious and almost painfully beautiful in his singing.

American tenor Kenneth Tarver gives a thoroughly humorous rendition of Count Almaviva, looking set to seduce the audience as well as the heroine. Anna Dowsley makes a minx-like Rosina, just waiting to be captivated. It needs to be remembered that these are quite unlike like the count and countess we know from Mozart’s’ sequel, “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Warwick Fyfe  as Dr Bartolo, photo Keith Saunders

Warwick Fyfe as Dr Bartolo, photo Keith Saunders

Former Canberran Warwick Fyfe is the buffoon-guardian Dr Bartolo, in this production imagined as a medical doctor, and his performance confirms this Fyfe’s talent for straight-faced comic performance as he goes along with the hijinks that so pleased the audience.

So why I was not totally enraptured? Certainly the orchestra was in fine form, lightly and deftly led by conductor Andrea Molino from the familiar overture through an evening of fun.

But what busy fun and heavy-handed it was. Full of overacting in a nod to the story’s commedia dell’arte origins, it seemed a touch dated.

Kenneth Tarver  as Count Almaviva, photo Keith Saunders

Kenneth Tarver as Count Almaviva, photo Keith Saunders

The stage business proves extraordinarily hammy, especially in Act I scene where the count pretends to be Rosina’s music teacher.

Extraneous stage business in a side room provides extra laughs as a long line of suffering patients are led into the surgery by Samuel Dundas, upstaging everybody else including Figaro as Dr Bartolo’s Boris Karloff-like servant.

This is diverting, but takes away from the main action centre stage where the count and Figaro are plotting a midnight abduction of Rosina. Inexplicably, the front door is wide open and they might just as easily take her out then, but that, of course, would spoil the shenanigans on the stroke of 12.

It’s quite a wait for the happy ending, and stage gags reign supreme, sometimes overpowering the beautiful arias.

And yet, Opera Australia says this is “the most popular comic opera in the world” and without doubt the production is what Edna Everage would call “A Nice Night’s Entertainment”.




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