Even non-opera buffs will recognise the overture to The Barber of Seville from popular culture. It’s been used in many films and cartoons over the years: Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville and Homer of Seville. The audience is captured by it, and the tone is set. This is going to be an evening of fun – and unlike most operas – no one dies.
Director Laurent Pelly has designed both set and costumes and the curtain rises on a stage covered in giant pieces of sheet music. The characters, all dressed in black, are the musical notes. They are reminiscent of Gulliver in Lilliput. It’s clever, it’s thrilling, it’s beautiful and the audience revels in it, wondering what is going to happen next.
To begin with, the sheet of paper is blank, and at the bottom of the page lies Count Almaviva (aka Lindoro), asleep. Later in the first act, Rosina appears from within the top of the page, which serves as the balcony to which the Count, in disguise as Lindoro, serenades her. The lines from the sheet music double as bars to imprison her.
Her voice is the strongest of the cast and her performance is excellent throughout, as is that of the orchestra. Her acting, along with the rest of the cast, is superb despite them having to sing in some strange, probably constricting, positions. Even from the Grand Circle, her body language suggests a feisty, sullen teenager who is a force to be reckoned with. This Rosina is no walkover. There are only two women in this opera, the maid and Rosina, but she makes up for it. She will not sit quietly at home, conform, marry her guardian, Doctor Bartolo; she’ll fight for what she wants – to marry who she believes is Lindoro, his guise only being revealed to her at the end of Act Two.
Although the set is magnificent, it is perhaps a little static in Act One. There are more scene changes in Act Two when Rosina has her music lesson from the Count, now disguised as her usual music teacher’s assistant. It’s all orchestrated by Figaro of course, as he comes to Bartolo’s house to shave him. In this scene, the whole room is decorated in sheet music, floor to ceiling, including the piano, which the Count humorously pretends to play, while a plan is devised for him to escape with Rosina.
At the end of the act, when Rosina mistakenly thinks she’s been betrayed, pathetic fallacy is used and extremely large rain drops fall in the form of black pieces of paper which perfectly create the sound of falling rain. It’s a fitting image to end with as Bartolo, left alone after Rosina has married who she now knows is Count Almaviva, stands alone, in the fallen rain.
But this isn’t a sad opera – refreshingly so. There is humour from the outset, created in a variety of different ways: through the music itself, the acting, the set, the choreography… At one point, the chorus arrive as policemen and use music stands as guns. The audience delight in the spectacle before their eyes. This production will keep you on the edge of your seat all night and you will be thrilled by all that you see and hear.