It is good to see an opera production that will clearly be revived and revived until the set falls to pieces. So often, the visual effect of a premiere is drab and ugly, and you know you are seeing it for the last time. Sir Thomas Allen's Barbiere di Siviglia for Scottish Opera is set in 1900, but the detailed designs – by Simon Higlett – place it in a decrepit, ornate palazzo suggestive of Naples or Palermo. Only the spinet in the music-lesson scene is out of period.
Sir Thomas is lucky to have a bright star of a Rosina, the soprano Karen Cargill. This young singer has the unbeatable combination of dramatic tone, sonorous mezzo range, zippy coloratura, varied colourings and, to top it all, real acting talent.
The production itself has humour rather than wit. There are plenty of bright ideas – you wonder what a stilt-walker and a juggler are doing in this opera, and the overture is covered by a lot of irrelevant business. The invention does not always respond to the action, and the artists sometimes seem to be waiting for something to happen. The Figaro (Thomas Oliemans), in particular, enters in a grand show of spacious tone, holds out his hat and sings, and goes on delivering ample sound all evening without doing much else.
But the knowing wit that ought to shine from this piece went adrift in this first performance. The conductor, Sergio La Stella, was unable to creep up stealthily on phrases or pull rhythmic rabbits out of hats; his tempi were rigid and the singers did not always buy them. Even SO's normally reliable orchestra sounded stale and tentative. Worse, there was a nasty surprise when Count Almaviva (Adrian Dwyer) embarked on "Ecco, Ridente". He produced a thin and nasal sound that remained unpleasing in spite of his easy control of the tessitura and fine appearance.
Bartolo is sung by that fine musician Nicholas Folwell, and Don Basilio (Giles Tomkins) is a boulevardier in tails, hardly a comic character at all. Karin Thyselius looks pretty as Berta, but her young appearance and light voice give the lie to her dread of becoming an old maid. Paul Carey Jones is a mobile Fiorello.
This production may bloom later in the run – or the next revival, or the one after that. We can only hope that such a fine Rosina will stay with it long enough for it to flower.
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