The auditorium might have been extremely lightly populated but those who had come along to see the show, masked or unmasked such is the confusing state of affairs in Wales, enjoyed a rare treat – an enjoyable production from Welsh National Opera without any psychobabble or a la mode gobbledegook.
It was heartening to hear an audience cheer at the end of an opera because of the quality of signing and orchestral playing in a production that did not need any virtue signalling. Here the strong, intelligent woman uses her brain as well as her heart and gets her man, while keeping everyone happy at the same time. Brava.
The Giles Harvegal staging, with designs by Russell Craig, may have been created while some of the singers were toddlers, but its entertaining concept, a visiting troupe in a village square performing the Barber, while inside that stage the heroine Rosina plays out her own game using doll figures, remains fresh and entertaining. Here is a director who works with rather than against the opera.
It allows the excellent cast to revel in Rossini’s glorious arias and sparkling music with Robert David Macdonald’s English translation that had the audience genuinely laughing along. Having seen this production many times before I even laughed to myself just knowing what puns and visual humour were about to happen and I adored the fact that the people I was with were laughing all the way through.
It is also refreshing to see the men of the WNO chorus enjoying being on stage in carefully drawn acting roles, from the grumpy musicians to corrupt “police” to the townsfolk transfixed by the performance.
Just like us they were delighted by the glorious clear bel canto mezzo from Heather Lowe as a sharp and cool Rosina, and the perfect character acting from Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo, in particular. The production makes it clear she is the real manipulator of the story, thus the dolls. It does mean Nico Darmanin’s warm tenor Count Almaviva and Nicholas Lester’s striking Figaro, do lack the dramatic force of other approaches to Rossini’s tale.
Adding to the hilarity Keel Watson’s Don Basilio was a joy and his “Calumnia” exquisitely sung, and I look forward to seeing more from the performer. Angharad Morgan returns to the role and again makes the most to thrill with her Berta aria.
Frederick Brown’s sympathetic conducting let the music and the singers breathe.
If WNO is in town and you need to choose an opera this season? Well if it is for enjoyment rather than brain ache choose Barber.
Images. Richard Hubert Smith