Heritage Opera’s Barber Delights and Entertains

 United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rossini: The Barber of Seville: Heritage Opera, Lowther Pavillion, Lytham, Lancashire, 7.6 2013. (MC)

Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini based on the Pierre Beaumarchais comedy Le Barbier de Séville. Sung in a new English translation by Sarah Helsby Hughes. Music performed by instrumental ensemble.

Count Almaviva/Lindoro: Nicholas Sales (tenor)
Figaro, the Barber of Seville: Stephen John Svanholm (baritone)
Rosina: Melanie Lodge (soprano)
Dr. Bartolo: Richard Woodall (bass-baritone)
Don Basilio: Stephen Holloway (bass)
Berta: Sarah Helsby Hughes (soprano)
Fiorello/ Chief of Police: Matthew J. Palmer (baritone)
Musician/Police Officer: Eleanor Strutt (soprano), Dan Woodhouse (baritone)

Music Director: Benjamin Cox
Director/Design: Sarah Helsby Hughes
Scenic Director: Tom Eaglen

Barber of Seville, photo Heritage Opera
Barber of Seville, photo Heritage Opera

So much of opera is about fantasy with ridiculous characters, in absurd situations with the most preposterous of plots. This Rossini evergreen opera buffa The Barber of Seville has several unbelievable aspects – none more incredible than Rossini managing to compose the score to what is one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy, evidently in just three weeks. And how unbelievable it seems today that it was received so poorly at its première with the audience heckling and booing. Also astonishing is how the Heritage Opera company keep managing to stage productions which are so incredibly entertaining over and over again.

Directed by the talented Sarah Helsby Hughes, Heritage Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville was given in a brand new English translation. The cast was accompanied by a five piece instrumental ensemble directed by assured music director Benjamin Cox. Very simple yet vividly colourful the set looked perfect for the Lowther Pavilion stage and was tastefully lit throughout. I am always delighted by the fine detail that the company employ so cleverly such as paying the musicians with gold money that they tested with their teeth and, discovering it was chocolate money, began eating it.

First main character on the stage was game company stalwart Nicolas Sales. In his disguise as poor student Lindoro he was serenading outside Rosina’s window singing his appealing cavatina Ecco, ridente in cielo (The beautiful dawn is breaking). His bright lyrical tenor boasted clarity and as usual he made a considerable impact in his well characterised part as Count Almaviva. Perfect as Rosina was the attractive Melanie Lodge with her striking luminous eyes. Despite a rather tentative start she was captivating throughout, sketching a suitably vulnerable character using the purity of her mezzo-soprano voice to entrancing effect.

Baritone Stephen John Svanholm was straight into his role as the crafty Figaro, the Barber of Seville, exuding a natural confidence with a fine stage presence. Who could fail to love the Barber’s patter aria Largo al factotum (Make way for the factotum) delivered so splendidly by Svanholm. It took me quite a while to warm to Richard Woodall’s portrayal of the fulsome Dr. Bartolo. Looking a touch nervous the bass-baritone soon steadied to display a rich tone, settling satisfyingly into the role he made for himself as an essentially self-deluded buffoon. The first thing I noticed about Stephen Holloway was his formidable bearing that was made for the part of Don Basilio. His opulent bass with its rock steady, mahogany-like tone projected splendidly through the hall.

Heritage Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville was a sheer delight entertaining their Lytham audience royally. If you haven’t seen this opera company, remedy the situation and make sure you don’t miss out on the enjoyment of their next production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute in August.

Michael Cookson