The Barber of Seville, English National Opera

An eventful night at the opera…

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Barber of SevilleThere’s a line in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville which usually passes unnoticed – but in English National Opera’s production this weekend it brought the house down.

Three quarters of the way through the first Act on Saturday, tenor Andrew Kennedy, who had been playing Count Almaviva, was taken ill. A long interval followed while the unsuspecting understudy was presumably phoned, fetched and be-wigged.

After a 30-minute interval the maid, Berta, came on stage to resume the performance and sang ‘I wonder what has been happening this past half hour’, the line was greeted by ironic laughter and knowing applause. Mezzo Katherine Broderick in the role had to wait for it to subside before carrying on.

Illness aside, this was a delightful evening’s entertainment. The production is Jonathan Miller’s and was first staged 25 years ago, but it wears its age well.

The Barber of SevilleBaritone Andrew Shore’s over-inflated Doctor Bartolo rather steals the show. His comic timing as Rosina’s buffoonish ward is impeccable: in berating Rosina he traps his pince-nez in the lid of her piano and frantically tries to pull them out – while trying to make it seem the most casual thing in the world. He finally succeeds and promptly falls over.

Rosina is a bright and cheeky Lucy Crowe, whose voice makes short work of Rossini’s fiendish soprano arias. And she does a good line in petulance, pursing her lips while her eyes twinkle with plots to foil the men who scheme around and about her.

The biggest round of applause in the curtain call, though, went to tenor Tyler Clarke, who replaced Andrew Kennedy. Although not quite as confident with the coloratura as the rest of the cast, Clarke’s tenor was smooth-toned and a real pleasure to listen to. His portrayal of the pompous music teacher (one of the disguises Almaviva employs to get into Rosina’s house) was spot-on. He threw himself into the production in surely the most challenging of circumstances and absolutely deserved that rousing reception.

The glue holding the production together – more necessary this evening than most – was Benedict Nelson’s Figaro. A cocky and authoritative figure, he came in to his own while trying to distract the doctor with a shave, or throwing his exasperated hands in the air as Almaviva and Rosina gaze lovingly at each other, rather than making good their escape out of the window.

Conductor Jaime Martin was making his first appearance at ENO and it was a more-than-respectable debut.

All in all, this production is as light and fluffy as an ensaimada pastry and well worth seeing.

Rossini’s The Barber of Seville runs at ENO until 17 March

Photos: Scott Rylander

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