United Kingdom Rossini, The Barber of Seville: Soloists and Orchestra of Scottish Opera, Conductor: Francesco Corti. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 17.11.2011 (SRT)
Figaro – Ville Rusanen
Count Almaviva – Thomas Walker
Rosina – Claire Booth
Dr Bartolo – Tiziano Bracci
Don Basilio – Graeme Broadbent
Berta – Teuta Koço
Thomas Allen (director)
Simon Higlett (designer)
Thomas Allen’s safe-as-houses production of The Barber returns to Scottish Opera this Autumn for its first revival. Allen’s many years of experience shine through in a production that tells the story in a straightforward way and gives the singers plenty of opportunity for comic embellishment, the Count’s well observed disguises and Dr Bartolo’s toupée being two examples. The settings and costumes, like his recent Marriage of Figaro, set the action squarely in the time of its writing but don’t limit it to becoming a period piece: Rosina’s flirtatious mannerisms and the high jinks of the soldiers in the chorus could just as easily happen in any place and time. Simon Higlett’s sets are particularly effective, creating a seamless transition between the street and interior of the first two scenes, and giving an unusually effective sense of depth inside the set of Bartolo’s house.
Allen gives his singers plenty to do, but he is experienced enough in opera to know that it’s the voices that count. Ville Rusanen’s Figaro was vigorous and rich in manner and voice. He doesn’t quite have the full measure of the buffo technique, but he’s well on the road to acquiring it. The opposite is true for Thomas Walker’s Count who sings with dazzling technique and bel canto style, but his voice has a nasal, almost guttural quality that takes a while to tune in to. Claire Booth’s Rosina was light and lovely, if a little shrill in parts of the first act. She warmed up beautifully in the second, however, delivering a first rate rendition of the singing lesson, and throughout the evening her approach to ornamentations was sensitive rather than attention grabbing. Tiziano Bracci’s Bartolo blustered and fumed while remaining musical, even if some of the fastest patter was a touch beyond him, but perhaps the finest voice of the evening came from Graeme Broadbent’s Basilio, resonant and full without ever descending into blackness, giving an unusually rounded portrayal of what is often a stock character. Teuta Koço sang Berta’s aria with rich voice and a good sense of humour.
In the pit Francesco Corti conducted a clipped, fast-paced reading which robbed some of the beauty from the slower ensemble moments but was all of a piece with the quickfire action on stage. I think the most encouraging thing about this successful revival, however, is the way Scottish Opera have assembled a team of artists who have worked with the company recently and obviously had a good enough experience to want to come back. In the light of its recent troubles, this is a company that badly needs to have its sense of team restored.
Scottish Opera’s season includes new productions of Hansel and Gretel and The Rake’s Progress as well as a summer revival of Tosca. For full details go to www.scottishopera.org.uk.