New Zealand Opera
The Barber of Seville by Rossini
Orchestra Wellington and Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus
Conductor: Wyn Davies; Director: Lindy Hume; Designer: Tracy Grant Lloyd; Assistant director: Jacqueline Coats; Lighting designer: Matthew Marshall
Count Almaviva: John Tessier
Rosina: Sandra Piques Eddy
Figaro: Morgan Pearse
Dr Bartolo: Andrew Collis
Don Basilio: Ashraf Sewailam
Berta: Morag Atchison
Fiorello/Officer;: Joel Amosa
Ambrogio: Jesse Wikiriwhi
The Opera House, Wellington
Saturday 29 July 2019, 7:30 pm
Colourful, joyful, exhilarating are the words to describe this production of the Barber of Seville. From the very beginning of the Overture, taken at a moderate steady tempo that let every phrase be clearly articulated, we know that we are in for a treat. When the action starts with the chorus, the serenaders, horsing around it is clear that this will be an entertaining show. Almaviva, John Tessier enters and sings his serenade. He is a powerful yet sensitive tenor and sets a high benchmark for the other singers. Figaro joins him and we are at home, this is Figaro the Barber whom everybody knows. Everyone is familiar with the tongue twister ‘Largo al factotum’. Morgan Pearse sang the role with energy and clarity, and with a good deal of comic touch.
We get to know Rosina, Sandra Piques Eddy, as she sings her aria, ‘Una voce poco’ fa’. She has an amazing mezzo-soprano voice, well controlled. Her deep notes were particularly noteworthy for their glorious dark timbre. She sang with meticulous attention to the text and the musical phrasing, while subjecting her aria to the demands of the dramatic action.
Dr. Bartolo, has the least rewarding role, he is a bumbling, comic character whose every endeavour ends in failure. Andrew Collis sang the part with the appropriate rich baritone, while maintaining the sense of comedy of the ridiculous personality of the doctor. Ashraf Sewailam sang the role of Don Basilio, the cunning music teacher and fair weather friend, with a rare resonant bass and an organ like quality of the low notes. Berta, Morag Atchinson had one solo song, that she sang delightfully. She was a striking presence every time she appeared on the stage. The standard of singing was universally outstanding, and this was matched by fine comic acting. If I had any reservation, it was that there was too much unnecessary clowning, situations that were already ridiculous didn’t need to be further highlighted, but the audience obviously greatly enjoyed this.
The staging and production was imaginative, vivid and colourful. There was excellent use of the stage with its many doors, which at various times was a street scene outside Dr, Bartolo’s residence and then the interior of his house. There was ingenious use of strobe lighting highlighting the action. The foils dropping in the last scene just underlined the madcap comedy.
The Barber of Seville dates from 1816, the year after Napoleon was defeated and the normality of the Ancient regime returned to Europe. Beaumarchais on whose play the opera was based had died many years before, but some of the issues explored by the play were very much alive: the power of the aristocracy, the role of the middle class and that of the rising entrepreneur. When soldiers come to arrest Count Almaviva he only had to reveal his name and rank and the soldiers withdrew. Dr. Bartolo, the middle class doctor is a mere figure of fun, wanting to marry his ward for her money. He is also nostalgic for a bygone era, the music of which he much preferred to the new-fangled modern music that Rosina chose to sing. Figaro was the entrepreneur with an eye on money, an obsession shared by Basilio and the singers who were paid to serenade Rosina. Although for Rossini, aged 24 when he wrote this opera, these social considerations were not in the forefront of his mind, the audience that took the opera to heart were probably very aware of these subtle underlying themes.
Nevertheless, the opera was great, rollicking fun. Overheard at the end of the opera, someone said that this was the most enjoyable opera he had ever seen. This impression was endorsed by the enthusiastic applause, the catcalls, the stomping and the whistles coming from the audience the like of which I had never heard before.