When this production premiered at Glyndebourne in 2016, we described it as one in which comedy was striven for, and this revival by Sinéad O’Neill does not significantly alter the fact that Annabel Arden’s concept of the work, whilst it is admirably clear and straightforward, is just not very funny. Fortunately a team of mostly young singers do all they can to remedy that, giving performances which are a credit to the house and which will surely engage the audiences when the tour gets on the road.
Last time, the staging was centred around the vivacious Rosina of Danielle de Niese; the Tour production replaces her sparkling soprano with the smoky-toned mezzo-soprano of Laura Verrechia. She’s a feisty heroine, reminding us often that this is not automatically an ‘adorable’ character and singing with confidence – her lower notes are rich and full in compensation for less effervescence at the higher end of the scale. Tobias Greenhalgh is a lovable, jolly, extrovert Figaro, singing with real flair and suggesting a credibly ubiquitous barber, although he could have done with more direction in terms of his sweeping gestures. As could his fellow American and house debutant Jack Swanson, as Almaviva, whose light tenor is very appealing and who did his best with his disguises despite seeming to have been left more or less to his own devices. It’s still a mystery as to why a long, shiny silver coat was thought a suitable garment for a disguise as a poor student.
Marco Filippo Romano’s Dr Bartolo and Anatoli Sivko’s Basilio were also making Glyndebourne debuts, and they were impressive ones – the baritone almost made you warm to the fussy old fellow, and the bass was impressively unctuous. Janis Kelly was the sole representative of the first cast, and she was a finely sung, lovingly detailed Berta despite having to carry out embarrassing actions. Michael Wallace’s Fiorello and Adam Marsden’s Officer were impressive – both came from the Chorus, which provided superb singing and excellent characterization under its new director Nicholas Jenkins.
Ben Gernon made quite an impression with his conducting of Don Giovanni for last year’s Tour, so it came as no surprise that he obtained ideally sparkling playing from the orchestra and supported the singers with sympathetic skill. Ben-San Lau’s fortepiano continuo was ideally apt and witty.
The chief advantage of the production is its clarity, which makes it a good introduction to the work even though the stage pictures presented don’t really do much to suggest sunny Spain – especially given that the most striking image is from the English Arts & Crafts movement, in the shape of William de Morgan’s Weaver Birds. However, the towering bookshelves, the vine-hung balcony and the luxurious pile of cushions worked well; it’s still a mystery to most, though, that harpsichords were moved on and off stage at various points, and at one juncture descended en masse from on high – maybe some kind of surrealist point was being suggested but it was lost on most of the audience. We did enjoy seeing the beautiful sound board painting on one of those instruments though – someone really knows their sound board artists.
This year’s Tour also features Nick Hytner’s lovingly faithful production of Così fan Tutte and Brett Dean’s Hamlet which comes straight from its premiere at the Festival; after the three weeks at Glyndebourne, the company goes on to Canterbury, Woking, Norwich, Milton Keynes and Plymouth.