Theatre/Opera Review: The Barber of Seville

Opera on steroids!


Presented by: State Opera South Australia:  A Co-Production between Opera Queensland, Seattle Opera and New Zealand Opera

Reviewed: 11 November 2021

The Barber of Seville is an Opera Buffa based on the first book in a trilogy written by Frenchman Pierre Beaumarchais in 1775. Rossini based an opera on it which received its premiere on the 20th of February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome with designs by Angelo Toselli – it was a disaster. Lindy Hume’s production of Barber opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide on the 11th of November 2021 after being seen in Queensland, Seattle and New Zealand – it is a triumph of ingenuity and whimsy. Combining Opera Buffa and a modern day sensibility seamlessly and flooding the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre with a production that combines Rossini’s invigorating and exciting music with some of today’s up and coming opera stars and a few stalwarts of opera in South Australia.

From the moment the orchestra, under the brilliant guidance of Graham Abbott, burst into the overture we knew we were in for a fun night. Rossini’s music is colourful, energetic and demanding, lifting you straight into the spirit of the evening with an accompanying light show worthy of any night out in a disco. It sets the tone for the romp through the story that this brilliant, and hardworking, cast travel us through with effortless vocal and comic antics.

There is a stage populated with an array of talent that lets us sit back and enjoy the great lengths Count Almaviva (John Longmuir) ably assisted by Figaro (Morgan Pearse)will go to get his girl, Rosina (Katie Stenzel). Doctor Bartolo (Douglas McNicol) wants to keep the duke away from his ward, Rosina ably assisted by Don Basilio (Pelham Andrews) and Berta (Teresa LaRocca) Fiorello (Jeremy Tachell) and Ambroggio, (Nicholas Cannon).

Hume’s deft touch and great comic genius is showcased in the way she has seamlessly put this story together. There is not a wasted moment in her warm, clever and funny reworking of this piece of historic Rossini. Bringing the time frame forward and introducing some very funny 21st century visual and scripted jokes (I really liked the up to date translation) really engages the audience and provides some classic comic moments. I thought the first night audience was a little stuffy and not very forthcoming in showing how much it was enjoying the performance. The comments afterwards as I was leaving the theatre were all very positive and I think once we don’t have to laugh through a mask the performers will get a much better idea of how much we are enjoying their work.

Rossini demands razor sharp articulation and the ability to sing at the speed of light. Longmuir, Pearse and Stenzel are master craftsmen and delivered some extraordinarily gymnastic singing whilst moving forward a comic plot that could get very confusing if the acting and singing were not world class. Graham Abbott’s touch was there in all the carefully and beautifully crafted singing.

Tracy Grant Lord’s design was the icing on the cake. The set was colourful, to the point of psychedelic, imaginative and added to the whimsy of the piece. The costumes assisted the story with flair that accented each character’s personality with a touch of Commedia Dell’Arte. Matthew Marshall’s lighting was vibrant, colourful and enhanced the story, at times threatening to take over but never quite able to dwarf the performances.

There are some very famous arias in this work and not one of them failed to hit the mark. There are also some very demanding duets, trios, quartets and septets – you name it Rossini wrote it. This incredibly talented cast made the flexibility and alacrity of vocal technique required sound, and look, effortless. The State Opera ensemble were, as always up for the challenge. It is really great to see an ensemble of singers move with such ease and embody the work. Finally The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Graham Abbott; another performance that assists a cast of singers but showcases the brilliant musicians we have in South Australia.

A really entertaining opera and a really good night out for those of you who like your opera with a generous side serve of ingenious comedy. Bright, energetic and not to be missed. Katie Stenzel’s vocal ability is extraordinary and she is luminous, John Longmuir’s voice is stratospheric and Morgan Pearse threatens to steal the show! If you love your opera, you might get a kick out of this!

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Rating out of 5: 5

Venue:  Her Majesty’s Theatre                     

Season: 11 – 20 November 2021

Duration:  2h 45m (including interval)

Suitability: G

Language: Italian (English surtitles)

Tickets: Premium $170.00

  A Reserve  Adult $150.00 Under 30 $30.00 Conc $135.00

  B Resreve  Adult $120.00 Under 30 $30.00 Conc $108.00

  C Reserve  Adult $80.00    Under 30 $30.00 Conc $72.00

Bookings: https://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=BARBERS21

Photo Credit: Soda Street Productions

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