Jonathan Miller’s ENO Barber as Invigorating as Ever

30/09/2015

Barber

ENO’s The Barber of Seville (c) ENO&Mike Hoban

 Rossini, The Barber of Seville: Soloists, Members of the English National Opera Chorus, Orchestra of English National Opera/Christopher Allen (conductor), London Coliseum, 29.9.2015 (CC)  

Cast

Figaro: Morgan Pearce
Rosina: Kathryn Rudge
Bartolo: Andrew Shore
Count Almaviva: Eleazar Rodriguez
Don Basilio: Barnaby Rea
Fiorello: Matthew Durkan
Berta: Katherine Broderick
Ambrogio: Geraint Hylton
An Official: Roger Begley
A Notary: Allan Adams

Production

Director: Jonathan Miller
Revival Director: Peter Relton
Designer: Tanya McCallin
Lighting Designer: Thomas Mannings

Some long running productions deserve their success: certainly that is the case here (as it is with other Jonathan Miller projects – his G&S and his Rigoletto spring straight to mind). Miller retains a static stage and brings the Barber to a good old British farce. The comedy, not to mention the comedic timing, is miraculous, while the importing of the concept of the commedia dell’arte (most obviously in the costumes of the male chorus in the opening scene) works brilliantly.

This is the twelfth revival of Miller’s staging (Miller was there). Almost as well-loved as the production is Andrew Shore, here taking the role of Bartolo (as he did in 2005). Shore dominates the stage with his sheer presence just as much now as he did then, or as much as he did as Beckmesser back in February. His voice is undiminished, as is his sense of comedic timing. It is ever a privilege to see him in action: this was a masterly assumption marked by his characteristic exemplary diction, impeccable phrasing and split-second accuracy in his exchanges with other characters. (Incidentally, surtitles were only used for arias, not for recitative).

Making his ENO debut, Mexican tenor Eleazar Rodriguez took the part of Count Almaviva, making a strong impression, not least for the beauty of his voice; Morgan Pearce, the Australian baritone who takes on the role of Figaro, does well in general acting terms but is still some way from totally mastering Rossini’s tricky demands in terms of sheer speed of delivery.

Barbaby Rea, as Basilio, gave a beautiful account of “La Calunnia”. British mezzo (and former ENO Harewood Artist) Kathryn Rudge tackles Rosina for the first time in this run (her professional debut was as Cherubino at ENO in 2011). Everything about Rudge’s assumption was delightful. She is fresh voiced and vocally agile; her second act “insert” aria was sung in Italian, a nice touch, but what was most appealing about Rudge was that she was radiant with youth, and as such eminently believable.

Berta was played by Katherine Broderick, and in her brief moment of fame she shone in a vocal snowball of lightness and froth. Broderick’s confidence is remarkable, some way on from her rather variable Miss Jessel at the Barbican in April 2014. Finally, British baritone Matthew Durkan, making his ENO debut (a former member of ENO Opera Works and, from 2015/16, a member of the ENO Harewood Artists’ Scheme). Durkan is a fine, fresh Fiorello and on present evidence promises much. The smaller parts were all well taken and characterised.

This was the UK debut of Christopher Allen, Associate Conductor of Los Angeles Opera (and a finalist in the ‘newcomers’ category of the 2015 International Opera Awards). The lick he chose for the Overture indicated that it would be a short night (not so, in the end), and there were, initially, some moments of variable ensemble, while the lower registers of the orchestra were rather muddied. Yet he and the orchestra hit stride as the evening wore on, and he accompanied his soloists well. It was perhaps not the most characterful conducting, but certainly more than serviceable. This remains a must-see production. ENO’s strengths remain evident in this pared-down season and every return trip acts as a reminder as to just how much this wonderful opera company has to offer. Good to see, also, that the performance seemed to be all but sold-out.

Colin Clarke

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