Opera Holland Park needed an opera as robust as Rossini’s to compete with a downpour of Wagnerian proportions on the first night. Fortunately the new canopy stood the test, and the torrential rain outside proved a minimal distraction for the audience. I’m not sure if the same could be said for the performers – though conditions certainly added an element of realism to the Act II storm scene – but they coped with the situation admirably.
Based on a play by the splendidly named Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais and a loose prequel to Le Nozze di Figaro, Il Barbiere di Siviglia exploits all the well-worn themes of young love and mistaken identity to end happily (if absurdly) ever after.
It is Seville circa 1770. Count Almaviva has fallen instantly in love with the young Rosina, as she leans out of her bedroom, where she is confined by the elderly and bumbling Dr Bartolo (Eric Roberts) who intends to marry her himself. Almaviva disguises himself as a lowly student named Lindoro and aided by his friend Figaro, the local barber, contrives of a number of ludicrous and ill-fated plans to rescue Rosina. Before too long the narrative dissolves into chaos and confusion and eventually Bartolo wearily admits defeat and resigns to marry his maid, allowing the young lovers to unite.
OHP’s employment of a largely unfamiliar cast makes the fine performances of the evening all the more thrilling. Toby Stafford-Allen is great value as the eponymous barber, complete with cocky swagger and comedy wig, and handles the fast-paced libretto with admirable gusto. Brad Cooper makes a fine Count Almaviva; he is blessed with the good looks that are essential to the part and is impressive vocally, though the fiendish runs of coloratura end up a bit woolly. But it is Frances Bourne in the role of Rosina who steals the show. Bourne finds the perfect balance between naivete and sophistication, and she sings the role gloriously.
Whilst in no way ground-breaking, Tim Carroll‘s production has an easy and timeless charm but its accessibility sometimes verges on the pedestrian. The stage is structured by pieces of flimsy white scaffolding that provide a convenient, but rather bland, definition of both façade and interior of Dr Bartolo’s house and the protagonists are buttoned and beribboned in all the appropriate garb. Trios and quartets could be a little tighter, but overall both cast and orchestra give an impressive performance under Robert Dean’s baton.