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The Barber of Seville (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Barber of Seville

Charles Court Opera Company

Wilton’s Music Hall

When Rossini (aged only 24) wrote the Barber of Seville in 1816 it was intended to entertain the masses and make him lots of money. It did both.  It was nothing to do with elitism, audience dress codes, handwringing, subsidies and wokeism.  And that’s exactly the spirit of Charles Court Opera Company’s two hour take on it. I smiled so much that I left the theatre with my face aching because this highly accomplished production is such enormous fun.

First – of course – the music. Musical Director, David Eaton has worked closely with director Joohn Savourin throughout the development of this show and that cohesion is palpable. He sits at an old fashioned upright piano below stage left and directs as much with his eyes as with what he plays. He and the cast of seven time time every note almost perfctly – and that’s quite an achievement, given the amount of recitative in the mix to drive the story telling.

That slightly tinny piano is a deliberate choice with Eaton in a Stetson and denim shirt because this Barber of Seville is set in the Wild West where Bartolo (Matthew Kellet – splendid) runs, or tries to, a saloon bar. Rosina (Samantha Price, mezzo, who role-shares with Meriel Cunningham) is his wealthy ward whom he makes work in the bar and plans to marry as soon as possible. Then a glamorous “bandit from Texas” ( tenor Joseph Doody, role-sharing with John Gyeantey) turns up although of course his real name is Count Almaviva. And so the daft plot, which transfers cheerfully to this context, wends its wacky way. And visually it sits almost integrally in the arty shabbiness of Wilton’s Music Hall.

The real star of this show is Jonathan Eyers as Figaro. He has enormous on-stage charisma. He uses his mellifluous bass voice with warmth and delivers beautiful chocolate-rich notes in the lower part of the register. He brings exceptional rapport – both musical and dramatic – to duets and other shared numbers. He’s also an immensely talented actor who grins, gestures, communicates with his fingers and commands the stage for every second that he’s on it.  Because of his willowy body shape and considerable height he looks wonderfully funny too especially when he’s gesturing or dancing.

This show is characterised by outstanding singing – whether it’s a full blown aria such as Price’s solo in which she laments her predicament and makes a puppet of her mop, or a sextet in which everyone is expressing a different point of view. And most other opera companies could learn a lesson or two about clarity of diction and precision from the way Savourin and Eaton have directed these performers.  Every syllable lands impeccably.

So what of the transferred plot? Well, Eaton is a lot more than a musician. He has written a hilarious libretto which gets a lot of humour from anachronism as well as weaving in lots of references to the Wild West including film and show titles. Because, however, Eaton is a musician, literally to his finger tips, every word fits the music because – presumably – he hears in his head the music that the words have to fit as he writes them. Bravo!

This is definitely a show not to be missed. I beamed all the way home.



Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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