“Opera was opera, and men were sopranos.” Dr Bartolo’s quip still elicits guffaws, but when this veteran production was new, those guffaws were not the isolated incidents of last night’s ENO revival. It all felt under-rehearsed and under-whelming, despite two fine leading performances.
Andrew Shore owns the role of Rosina’s testy old ward, and he inhabits it with relish, in still commanding voice and presence. The other Andrew on stage, Kennedy, was no match for him either vocally or dramatically. The younger man has a fine voice but on this occasion he made heavy work of his first aria (to be fair to him, though, unless the name is Flórez, who doesn’t?) and phrased his music rather choppily.
Benedict Nelson, not for the first time here, seemed over-parted as Figaro; he did his best with the action, but the singing lacked colour and fire. Like Andrew Kennedy, he has a lovely voice but he has some way to go before he fulfils his undoubted promise. Nicholas Soar’s seedy, slimy Don Basilio could give him lessons in characterization.
Lucy Crowe has long been admired by those of us knowledgeable in Handel singing – in fact it was obvious from her very first performances that here was a soprano with fluency, panache and commitment to clean, accurate phrasing. Some might prefer a richer voice in the role of Rosina, and there certainly were times when one did think fondly of Joyce di Donato. However, Ms Crowe’s sparkling, confident coloratura and eloquent shaping of her lines, as well as her feisty, engaging characterization, made this an assumption to treasure.
As well as the strongly portrayed Basilio, the smaller roles were well taken, with Kathleen Broderick’s Berta at times a fair candidate for the part of Rosina. The orchestra, under ENO debutant Jaime Martin, recovered from a sluggish start to give a lively account of the score, although in common with the production it was often short on wit.
There’s nothing wrong with revivals of 25 year old productions – as the current ROH Bohème shows – but they need to be crisply re-worked in order to maintain their special quality. ENO should concentrate on doing this, before they are faced with bringing in a new ‘Barber,’ which will no doubt feature decapitation (or at least scalping) and a stage dominated by pairs of Flamenco dancers.