Composer: Gioachino Rossini
Original Director : Jonathan Miller
Revival Director : Peter Relton
Reviewer: Michael Gray
Jonathan Miller’s classic staging of the Barber returns to St Martin’s Lane for the eleventh revival, a quarter of a century after its first performances.
No director’s ego on view here, though. Miller has been scathing about the more bizarre operatic visions of recent years, though that didn’t stop him relocating The Mikado to a Thirties Grand Hotel, another ENO favourite revived this season, with his Boheme still to come.
This is very much Rossini’s [and Beaumarchais’s] Barber, set in an exquisite recreation of 18th century Seville, with more than a hint of the Commedia dell’Arte. The production gives space for the music to speak for itself, and for the individual performances to inhabit the stage.
The performance which stands out here is Andrew Shore’s much-loved Bartolo – the Pantalone of this Commedia – a comic creation which, alone in this company, triumphantly combines singing and acting, with a superb physical presence, and a touch of pathos among the slapstick.
The young lovers are Lucy Crowe, in her first Rosina, wonderfully stringing together her coloratura pearls, and not lacking in warmth as the ward with a mischievous mind of her own. Her suitor, Andrew Kennedy, succeeds well as a romantic tenor, and relishes his several disguises.
Benedict Nelson is a rather vanilla Barber; he holds the stage well, though, and his delivery is sharply precise. The other ENO Harewood artist on view is Katherine Broderick, who makes a brilliant young Berta, and shines in her solo aria.
The setting is shallow, especially in the earlier street scenes, and the staging often static. But full of masterly touches: the synchronised feet in the Innuendo duet, Figaro clearly concealed in Bartolo’s cabinet of curiosities, the exaggerated hat worn by David Soar’s delicious Basilio, the failed elopement [they’re too busy singing about their escape to make it to the window and the ladder].
“I love a happy ending,” sings Nelson, and we certainly have one here, with the chorus [carnival revellers and military men] and the whole cast celebrating Almaviva’s triumph.
Making his UK operatic début, conductor Jaime Martin moves the score along briskly – his overture was urgent, but very melodic [and unadorned by stage business, almost a given in more recent productions].
Just seven more performances of this hugely enjoyable cornerstone of the repertoire, before Bartolo’s music-room is mothballed for another season.