A Cut Above: The SWH! Review of Scottish Opera's The Barber of Seville...
If you had told me ten years ago I'd have a top-five operas list I wouldn't have believed you, but since reviewing Scottish Opera's the The Devil Inside in 2016 I've somehow got to the stage where that is the case. Safely among those five is The Barber of Seville, and, although you might not realise it, it is possibly one of yours as well. That might be especially true if, like me, your first encounter with opera of any kind was Looney Tunes' Rabbit of Seville, where Bugs Bunny gives the full works, and the runaround, to Elmer Fudd. It may seem unlikely, but Scottish Opera's latest production of Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville captures the essence of those cartoon capers, or perhaps it was always the other way around? It has been described as the "opera buffa (comic opera) of all opere buffe", and the cast hit all the punchlines perfectly.
The curtain is raised to reveal a street scene resplendent in pastel, and slightly askew in a fashion reminiscent of the animated films of Sylvain Chomet, (check out The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist if you don't know them), and adds to the cartoon feel. A troupe assembles which includes actors, singers, clowns, acrobats, and a band which has more than a hint of the baroque alternative cabaret troupe The Tiger Lilies about it. They are here to help Count Almaviva seduce the object of his affections, Rosina who is closely guarded by her ward, and prospective husband, Doctor Bartolo. It appears to end in failure, and Almaviva must look elsewhere for assistance.
Cue the arrival of the titular barber, the infamous Figaro. A man in black, he is a cross between Johnny Cash and Warren Beatty's 'George Roundy' in Shampoo, cutting hair by day, and making matches at night. He takes on the Count as a client, determined to help him marry Rosina and thwart the reprehensible Bartolo in the process. What follows is farcical in that grand theatrical tradition, with mistaken identity, dubious disguises, deception, exaggerated characters, individuals arriving just as others leave, and so much more.
The performances are excellent, with the central cast of Anthony Gregory as Count Almaviva, Samuel Dale Johnson as Figaro, Simone McIntosh's Rosina, and David Stout's Doctor Bartolo all outstanding, as well as John Molloy as the scheming Don Basilio. Between them they carry most of the action, and as an ensemble they are electric.
Here's some images (with thanks to Scottish Opera - credit James Glossop)
The humour can be pleasingly broad. A sleeping Doctor Bartolo breaking wind gets a big laugh, perhaps as much from surprise as anything else. Almaviva supposedly becomes unrecognisable as a priest purely through the wearing of a cassock and a pair of comedy teeth (although he almost gives the game away by playing the piano with distinct Jerry Lee Lewis mannerisms) and many of the cast's asides come with a nod and a wink to audience. But there are more meta gags as well, and at times you aren't sure if the joke is on the character, the performer, or both.
Like a greatest hits album from a band you barely know (for some reason Huey Lewis and the News come to mind) you may find you have more knowledge of the music than you think you do. Altogether, it's one of the most enjoyable and entertaining evenings I've spent in the theatre, and judging by the smiles and laughs from those around me that feeling was widely shared. If you don't think opera is for you then The Barber of Seville, and more specifically THIS Barber of Seville, is the perfect place to start.
Here's the trailer:
Theatre Royal Glasgow: 17, 20, 25 & 28 October 2023, 7.15pm 22 October 2023, 3pm (Matinee)
Eden Court, Inverness: 16 & 18 November 2023, 7.15pm
Festival Theatre Edinburgh: 3, 8 & 11 November 2023, 7.15pm 5 November 2023, 3pm (Matinee)
His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen: 23 & 25 November 2023, 7.15pm