Well, I am besotted with the Barber. The Barber of Seville, that is! Never before have I seen a wilier Mr Fix-it than in the Opera Australia production of The Barber of Seville. A completely enthralling production, I defy anyone not to bop along and chuckle at the cheeky tomfoolery. However, if the overture for this opera buffa reaches your ears and you claim you don't immediately think of Bugs Bunny, I know that you're blatantly lying (or perhaps you're simply more sophisticated than I am). The choice of this catchy and memorable tune as the backdrop for this rascally rabbit's antics back in 1950 is a testament to the blithe spirit of the opera and its lively dynamism that continues to the present day.
In this vein, what we really need to focus on is not the Looney Tunes adaptation (sadly), but that of Elijah Moshinsky. The 1995 production updated the action to a 1920's setting, but still sported an overall traditional approach. Two decades after the first, Hugh Halliday directs this revival in 2016 and it is still as energetic and fresh as ever (no small feat). For those of you who don't know the fabulous Figaro, he's the problem-solver of Seville and he's here to help with match-making and money-taking. Luckily the Count Almaviva has plenty and he's willing to spend it to attract the attention of the beautiful Rosina, who is inconveniently betrothed to another. Hilarity ensues in this quick, engaging, and wickedly funny opera. Michael Yeargan's impressive set for most of the performance (of a two story house, no less) provides for constant action, so one always has something exciting in view. Even from the outset with a nod to playful puppetry, you're laughing along, and the giggles only abound from there!
Whatever production one sees of this comedic love affair, it truly showcases the prowess of its cast (if done correctly, of course). The enunciation must be completely en pointe if it is to flow perfectly and this 2016 cast does it beautifully. First seen with the difficult and highly memorable 'Largo al Factotum', the utterly charming Giorgio Caudoro sets the stage for skillful singing. This is then showcased through the young Australian mezzo, Anna Dowsley, whose spunky character makes her a fantastic fit for our Rosina. Naturally, one often expects such quality from the core cast, but in this case, my ears were also constantly drawn to other adroit enunciations. The subtle but remarkably precise vocal stylings of Andrew Moran as Dr Bartolo showed how these intricate arias should be sung. Although a rather reserved interpretation of the character, his expertise with the Italian language was hard to miss as he punctuated every last syllable with his dulcet diction.
Indeed it seems that talent abounds in this production, as I hear from all around that the performance of Kenneth Tarver as Count Almaviva was simply divine. However, in attending a later viewing, I was watching a completely different love-struck Lindoro (the Count's pseudonym). Although I do wish I had witnessed the tenor that inspired such a buzz, I found myself hanging on every word from Juan José de León. He was magical, his voice ringing out with every note and he swiftly became a romantic hero for whom my heart leapt.
One scarcely sees a production looking so sprightly after 21 years (or 200 years if one commences the clock at Rossini's debut) and its light-hearted tale of love is sure to convert any opera fence-sitters into fast fans. Transporting us to a beautiful bel canto paradise, the Opera Australia production of The Barber of Seville is one of the must-see events of the season.