22 September 2009

Guest Review - Surrey Opera@ Chequer Mead, East Grinstead - The Barber of Seville - Saturday 12th September 2009


Count Almaviva, a Grandee of Spain, is desperately in love with Rosina, the ward of Doctor Bartolo. Figaro is Bartolo’s barber, and, learning from the Count of his heart’s desire, immediately plots with him to bring about his introduction to Rosina.

She is strictly watched by her guardian, who himself plans to marry his ward, since she has both beauty and money. In this he is assisted by Basilio, a music-master. Rosina, however, returns the affection of the Count, and, in spite of the watchfulness of her guardian, she contrives to drop a letter from the balcony to Almaviva, who is still with Figaro below, declaring her passion, and at the same time requesting to know her lover’s name. Figaro tells her that the man is Signor Lindor, claims him as cousin, and adds that the young man is deeply in love with her. Rosina is delighted. She gives him a note to convey to the supposed Signor Lindor. Meanwhile Bartolo has
made known to Basilio his suspicions that Count Almaviva is in love with Rosina. Basilio advises to start a scandal about the Count.

To obtain an interview with Rosina, the Count disguises himself as a drunken soldier,and forces his way into Bartolo’s house. The disguise of Almaviva is penetrated by the guardian, and the pretended solider is placed under arrest, but is at once released upon secretly showing the officer his order as a Grandee of Spain

The Count again enters Bartolo’s house. He is now disguised as a music-teacher, and pretends that he has been sent by Basilio to give a lesson in music, on account of the illness of the latter. He obtains the confidence of Bartolo by producing Rosina’s letter to himself, and offering to persuade Rosina that the letter has been given him by a mistress of the Count. In this manner he obtains the desired opportunity, under the guise of a music lesson Figaro also manages to obtain the keys of the balcony, an escape is determined on at midnight, and a private marriage arranged. Now, however, Basilio makes his appearance. The lovers are disconcerted, but manage, by persuading the music master that he really is ill -- an illness accelerated by a full purse slipped into his hand by Almaviva -- to get rid of him.

When the Count and Figaro have gone, Bartolo, who possesses the letter Rosina wrote to Almaviva, succeeds, by producing it, and telling her he secured it from another lady-love of the Count, in exciting the jealousy of his ward. In her anger she disclosed the plan of escape and agrees to marry her guardian. At the appointed time,
however, Figaro and the Count make their appearance-the lovers are reconciled, and a notary, procured by Bartolo for his own marriage to Rosina, celebrates the marriage of the loving pair. When the guardian enters, with officers of justice, into whose hands he is about to consign Figaro and the Count, he is too late, but is reconciled by a promise that he shall receive the equivalent of his ward’s dower.

Rosina - Kelly Sharp
Count Almaviva - Yuri Sabatini
Figaro - Jeremy Vinogradov
Bartolo- Gabriel Gottlieb
Basilio -Leon Berger
Berta - Katherine Price
Fiorello -Samuel Queen

Creative Team:
Director - Mark Hathaway
Design team: Susan Beattie, Francesca Branch
Conductor - Jonathon Butcher

The lovely people at Surrey Opera once again provided me with free tickets for this production. Unfortunately I was going to be away on holiday when this was on. I was sad to miss the opportunity to see the show but, rather than waste the tickets, passed them to a friend and asked her to attend on my behalf. This review was kindly provided in my absence by Vanessa C.

Lovely little theatre. The Set got the first applause – even if it was only three people. It was very simple and effective, quite bare and hard, but gave an excellent platform for the show with the balcony providing a second level for action and with the arches below making it a super space for all the sneakings in and out and busy-ness of the Barber.

I was dreading the orchestra – but what a delight! They were the best thing about the whole evening. A fabulous start (despite the backstage banging) to what turned out to be a rather weak show vocally. Neatly held together by Jonathan Butcher, the band made an excellent sound in what can be such a mess of an overture, and they continued throughout the show with some great solo playing from all of the sections.

I personally favour operas performed in the original language. One of the reasons being that singers too often forget about their technique when singing in English (because, I guess, they are trying to enunciate too much) and so the vocal line together with the support totally disappear. Surrey Opera’s performance was a complete example of this, particularly with Kelly Sharp, who proved to be a good actress, but who is not, in my mind, an opera singer – very pretty, but inaccurate, unsupported, no vocal line, singing, particularly in her oh SO well-known aria, she should have known better!

The selection of voices for the performance was disappointing – with so many thousands of singers around, why is it not possible to find singers who look good, can act AND who have a technique and most importantly, who have a ‘voice’. It is all very well having people running around and being funny but what about the voices? The actual quality of sound made by these singers was dismal. The inability to colour the sound, the lack of control – the inability to sing quietly but still with focus, the obviously lack of training to support the voice – particularly with Rossini – underneath all the runs – was evident throughout. Shaking the head violently whenever they are supposed to sing a grace note, or strutting around the stage from left to right at the beginning of each run thrusting an arm out like a sword, is just irritating.

Which brings me to Yuri Sabatini. I was excited when I read in the programme about an Italian singer, etc., etc. But after a couple of minutes my bubble was burst when Count Almaviva started to sing, and even more so when he forgot his lines and asked for a prompt (was it three times) instead of just singing anything…I mean WHO is going to know that he has got the translation wrong…and for him to have come right out of character (his whole body did a kind of “oh damn it of COURSE that’s what the stupid word was how silly of me, thanks Jonathan) – dreadful dreadful.

The worse thing for Sabatini was that his first entrance was to sing after the best vocal instrument in the show – Samuel Queen. He has a lovely fresh, baritone, evenly placed and free, and his voice made a stark contrast to the pinched, nasal, laboured vocal production of the Count.

The Chorus however were excellent. They had delightful costumes and made many pleasing pictures – all the maids with their numerous duties and up-and-downing of stairs and sweeping looked great. And the chaps in the band at the beginning sang and acted well, with nicely understated humour. I don’t quite understand the costumes for the soloists however. The Count (sorry to get at him again) at the beginning had a very weird tabard-thing going on that was way too big for him, and Bartolo had a massively distracting wig, so much so that one couldn’t really see his face – which is always disappointing. Figaro, who was very dashing, wore boots with metal tips that made a lot of unnecessary noise.

Overall the production was visually pleasing and entertaining and the orchestra really excellent. I can quite understand how an audience would have found the show an extremely enjoyable night out – the humour and of course the story come across so well particularly with the Holden translation. For me, however, I was disappointed by the solo voices.

Final comment: Hoorah for Jonathan Butcher!

The Barber of Seville is a “prequel” to Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro (or “Figaro” is a sequel to “Barber” depending on your pov).

The overture is played during the end credits of the Beatles film Help! “Largo et Factotum” (arguably the most well-known piece of music from the opera) has been parodied by Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry and Homer Simpson, among many others.

Rossini composed the opera in little more than 2 weeks. Time to prepare for the first performance was limited so he borrowed the plot of a story that had earlier been used in an opera by Giovanni Paisiello. Paisiello was quite angry at this so he sent a group of loyal friends to disrupt the opening night of the opera. They booed and hissed and threw things on the stage. This made the singers nervous and caused one to trip on his robe; another broke a guitar string; and a third fell through a trapdoor. Someone even let a cat loose on the stage. The opera ended up even funnier than Rossini had intended.

During a performance in Cincinnati in 1952, four audience members died during Act II.

No comments: