Theatre Review: The Barber of Seville

By Jarred Tito

Date/Venue: Thursday 6 June, 2019 - Aotea Centre, Auckland

The Barber of Seville is one of the most comical and visually memorable operas that I’ve seen. I felt familiar with the performance and presentation, which made me dream of a time where fun and frolicking were common in theatrical performances.

There are so many scenes that pushed the boundaries of what the popular idea of an opera should be. Many think of opera as a mournful genre which almost always involves murder or death, betrayal and revenge. Rossini, the composer, was obviously not interested in the dramatics of the Greek tragedy, but instead set out to create a laugh out loud comedy which throws all that is sacred in opera to the wild winds of non-conformity.

From the beginning to the end, the set design delivered bonuses, with staging surprises and lighting bonanzas. To put it simply, I was blown away by the time and effort which was put into the set. I must admit, the NZ Opera has managed to excite, delight and deliver with every production that I have been lucky enough to bear witness to.

The costumes were skillfully matched to the set and production, which played a huge role in moving the opera into that real ‘period piece’ realm which in this case oozed with playful mischievousness. Full credit and acknowledgement go to set and costume designer Tracy Grant Lord and her team.

The performance of Count Almaviva played by tenor John Tessier was superb. I was impressed with the trueness of his voice but more than that he was also able to keep up the acting side of the role. Too often have I admired the voice of a performer yet felt underwhelmed by their thespian ability. However, the die has been recast for this one.  

In the second act, there is a scene where the Count has disguised himself as a man of the cloth as well as the replacement music tutor for Rosina (Sandra Piques Eddy). He finds himself behind the keyboard mimicking the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra as though he himself is playing. The scene is both entertaining and extremely clever. John Tessier’s comic timing is spot on.

Not forgetting the rest of the cast, Morgan Pearse who plays the principal part of Figaro is an absolute run away with his performance. He commands the stand from the moment he makes his appearance which was unconventional, from his costume to his hairstyle and make-up, and of course his commanding personality and voice. He has the whole package, beyond what you could imagine and hope for.

I really love the way the director, Lindy Hume, brought this fun and spirited opera to life. I like to imagine that this performance was exactly what Rossini had in mind when he put ink to paper. I’m sure that he would have been absolutely blown away by the high level of the production that The Barber of Seville has risen to.

Rosina (Sandra Piques Eddy) like the rest of the cast was amazing; she brought both playfulness and professionalism to a complete performance. She added the sweetness to the production which gave it beautiful pathway for the plot to surge ahead. Sandra Piques Eddy, is a very polished and true mezzo-soprano voice and is not opposed to throwing in a giggle or sigh when required.

One aspect of the performance is the emphasis that is put into the acting component. The use of expression as well as the use of props, in my opinion has improved so much in the past ten years. Gone are the days of a performer standing to deliver. Having said that, there are plenty of times when the performers are so busy and animated around the stage that one must wonder at how they manage to keep their vocal breathing in check. I swear that the good doctor, Andrew Collis, must have been quite relieved that he was able to get through his scene with Don Basilio (Ashraf Sewailam) and Figaro. The lyrics are a mouthful of rhyming conundrums that would have laid most to an idle waste on the floor.

Conductor Wyn Davies delivers another perfect performance along with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra. The opening stanza which is really for me, the theme song for The Barber of Seville, was an absolute hit. They smashed it! I love the fact that they spent the time coordinating a light show to match the very famous, signature tune. It was not unlike Disney’s Fantasia and certainly brought that to mind.

This year’s installment of The Barber of Seville brings comedy, check the Butler and the Maid, excitement and wonder. I was thoroughly impressed from beginning to end.