It was with great pleasure that my first show after the pandemic should be The Barber of Seville with the Welsh National Opera. Though the little excursion to Dyffryn Gardens has passed, our attention is now brought to a new season in their home, the Wales Millennium Centre.
We’ve had to say goodbye to some interesting projects from Wales’ leading opera company. Things have returned in their safe-bet, classic production of The Barber Of Seville from 1986. Directed by Giles Harvergal, a mood is set for a more traditional affair, as if we were seeing the opera when it was first performed in the early 1800s. I found myself awash with emotion in the chippy overture, lost in the events of the past year and a half. Tomáš Hanus and the orchestra were golden on this second night in Cardiff. It was as if no calamity had befallen us and life was back to normal. Sheer joy.
There is merriment and humour (one feels the opera might have been funniest in its own time) found all over the score and on the stage. There is much to say about class, status and, perhaps most important of all, the roaring tide of the youth finally having their day, the elders bowing out of this power dynamic. This creaky staging might not have a lot of wow factor today, it does prove to be flexible on their frequent tours and has held up as a crowd pleaser.
There were times when it felt like something was not there, as if a spark had been lit and was often extinguished. I’ve never understood several chorus members watching the show with us, as it unfolds on the sides of the stage. Why are there a few female chorus members present when they have nothing to sing throughout? I did laugh heartily a few times though. I’ll confess, I found it surreal to just be back in the building and having half a row of seats next to me, though the leg room was welcome.
Debate might be evident over the quality of some of the singing with this break from the stage – though the three male leads have proven their chops, all seen in WNO’s last production of Barber, from Sam Brown back in 2016. As said barber Figaro, Nicholas Lester always looks like he enjoys the role, and the baritone is nice enough. Previous Cardiff Singer Of The World finalist Nico Darmanin, as Count Almaviva, has the components of the role to a T, his voice coming back to him. And as Rosina, Heather Lowe shines as the Count’s love interest, never afraid to stand her ground and defend herself; her aria is a real sweet treat.
Andrew Shore is the definitive Dr Bartolo, here looking like a powdered, dandy Marlon Brando. His energy and wit are what should bring bums on seats, his cranky persona being a real pearl in the production. Keel Watson as Don Basilio also brings laughter, his solo perhaps being a real highlight. Angharad Morgan, as maid Berta, also has a few fleeting moments and a song with much insight and warmth.
This is familiar fare for WNO attendees – a blast from the past which most should find comfort in. A new production of Madam Butterfly is next, something which has my close attention.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Fri 10 Sept. Also here on Wed 29 + Thurs 30 Sept, then on tour.
words JAMES ELLIS photo RICHARD HUBERT SMITH
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