Preview: Paisello's Barber Of Seville, Bampton Classical Opera, The Deanery Garden, Bampton, Oxfordshire

A 'Barber' with a cutting edge
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The Independent Culture

If any British company deserves a prize for quirky, courageous programming, it's Bampton Classical Opera. Not many have the nerve to spring surprises such as Salieri's Falstaff, Storace's Comedy of Errors, or Paisiello's Nina on audiences, all performed in the enchanting setting of an Oxfordshire country garden.

Paisiello's operas were smash hits, performed more than any composer's by Joseph II's Italian opera company in Vienna. This year, Bampton is staging his Barber of Seville, first staged in St Petersburg, where the composer was Kapellmeister to Catherine the Great, in 1782 - four years before Mozart's Figaro, and 30 years before Rossini's version triumphed.

Why Paisiello? "This Barber seemed too good to miss," says the director Jeremy Gray. "It was an absolute hit, snapped up by theatres across Europe. It's an ideal length, two one-hour halves: apparently, the Empress's attention span didn't span much beyond that. It's exactly the kind of opera Bampton loves doing: its a good ensemble piece, and the comedy is strong.

"The opera has a wonderful energy and thrust: it epitomises the brilliant Italianate style. There are many delicious moments, including a trio for Bartolo and two servants in which one is yawning and the other sneezing, and a glorious quintet in which Almaviva poses as Rosina's replacement music teacher - only to be unmasked. There's a superbly zippy finale, and a lovely reflective aria with woodwind for Rosina [Rebecca Bottone] concluding the first half.

"It's the first time we're working with a professional designer," Gray says. "We're setting it in a 1970s holiday camp: Bartolo's house is a caravan on the fenced-in site, offering a lot of scope for climbing ladders and characters popping up in unexpected places. Visually and dramatically, it should be great fun."

At Bampton, 15 and 16 July ( www.bamptonopera.org; 020-7963 1116), and Buxton Opera House, 19 and 23 July ( www.buxtonfestival.co.uk; 0845 127 2190)

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