This was the penultimate Opera Up Close Barber of Seville, indeed, the penultimate Opera Up Close event at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. Happy then that they have gone out with a rousing show such as this!
The Boheme they had been showing in December was delightful, but a downer of course. No such danger with this piece. Everyone roared their approval as one at the end, something I had forgotten can happen at the opera!
Here, Rossini’s tuneful farce is set in Austen-era Salisbury, and considerably shortened down to about 1.5 hours. It works well. This is all down to the cast of course. The OUC budget is one imagines, quite stretched, and it shows in set-dressing and props. It makes one wish for government subsidies, anonymous donors and public largesse to plump up the bedclothes of this and other productions – to have the appearances match the input and effort given here by the cast.
No matter though. Performances were equal to the task of transporting us into a world where a man can draw a mustache on with eyeliner and adopt a comical Italian accent and be taken for a different man. Disguises in Rossini would of course never would hit Carlos the Jackal level of skill, and that’s the point. Its supposed to be stupid. I loved it. (So did a child who laughed in delight at the same imposter, the music teacher Dr Viola/Marquise of Bath/Alamviva waved his baton around as Rosina sung, as Dr Bartolo (here Dr Bartleby) snoozed.)
And what a Bartleby! This OUP staging I saw is noteworthy for having perhaps the campest Dr B (Dickon Gough) to ever grace a stage. One wondered why he coveted Rosina so as a result, but no matter. Ours is not to cast aspersions on the man but on his role. His singing was fine, resonant and especially good in the patter sequences, his acting witty and with good comic timing. Only the occasional stray into vernacular/his native accent crept in, but this was exceedingly minor.
Lawrence Olsworth-Peter‘s Almaviva/Bath seemed to have a bit of trouble initially with faster runs, the bel canto lines blurring with less distinction than I would have hoped for. Its a tricky sing, I am sure, and he got better with it as he warmed up. Also, some of his higher notes sounded a little forced at the start but perhaps this is a function of venue size and of the need to moderate the voice so as not to maim the spectators. An operatic artist up close is as we know, loud with a capital OW.
Vocally, things were much improved in the second half. But enough of technicalities and trifles: he gave us a delightful characterisation. His portrayal was from informed by, perhaps utterly embodiying the Byronic antihero, His Almaviva was far from lovable, in sum he was a bit of a bounder, rotter and cad. And what a bounder! In the music lesson scene, his seduction of her was magnificently assured. “Look at his face!!” said the lady behind me to her friend as she sung and he waved his baton (not a euphemism). That face, the eyes, beaming out “mad, bad and dangerous to know” from under his brows, a mischevious grin occasionally breaking forth. Were this at Covent Garden, a few heart attacks from the blue rinse brigade. No opera kisses here either! Full on smackers and smoochings. No pecks for this Rosina, the lucky lass! This was Don Juan territory all the way.
The object of this affection (or rather at times, predation!) was Rosie Middleton‘s Rosina. She gave a bit of bite and growl at the start of some phrases, whther as characterisation, or vocal idiosyncracy I can’t say, but her tone overall was lovely and it was a voice which in fact reminded me a little of a young Janet Baker. I found myself thinking that I would very much like to hear her as Dido one day.* She delighted as the minxy Rosina, and her “dumb blonde” moment of the spelling of “R. O. S. I. N….A?” was genuinely hilarious.
Julian Charles‘ Basilio was of good quality, his acting and singing as good as I remembered from his Boheme a few weeks prior. His is a splendid voice, warm and rich, and he has a good flair for comedy too. Bravo. So too Emily Jane Thomas’ Berta shone sweetly in “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie”. and I was glad to hear her voice given time to stretch, as it deserved to be heard apart from the rumbunctious crowd scenes.
Tom Bullard‘s Figaro’s sung the famous “Largo al factotum” showpiece with with deftness and charm. Naturally he picked the hairest man in London to give a flyer to, this same young man seated next to me, looking almost like a nouveau John Lennon. Poor man – he took it well, which raised a massive laugh. Figaro was at his best in the “ladder scene” when trying to get Rosina and Bath out of the room, but one minor point: I wished he had applied his own self-proclaimed barbering skills to his own barnett, he was sporting a very modern quiff which I couldn’t help but notice!
There were good rhymes from Robin Norton Hale’s clever adaptation of the libretto. Pianism was fine, though I cannot credit the lady who played, as I don’t have my programme. This is not to fault her, because she played well, but it did make me slightly miss the whole orchestra!
In sum, a really fun afternoon. OUC are to perform “Marriage of Figaro” in a town close to me, and I will see them. You should, too!
L-R, Charles, Bullard, Olsworth-Peter, Middleton
* in searching for more about Ms Middleton, I discovered she is in fact to perform Dido! I hope to be there.