In Seville, two men fight for the affections of the beautiful Rosina, Count Almaviva (disguised as a poor student Lindoro) and Dr Bartolo, her guardian. The Count enlists Figaro, town barber and busybody to help him win Rosina.
Comic mayhem ensues, but who will triumph? Welsh National Opera’s The Barber of Seville sparkles brightly with comedy at the Liverpool Empire.
The action begins by setting the stage up, come characters finish dressing and there’s some interaction with the audience. Then the crowd sits watching the orchestra pit; it felt too long, I didn’t understand the reasoning, and it felt quite strange to be in an audience watching that.
However, as the opera progressed (and particularly in the second act) I grew to quite enjoy the use of this on-stage audience, when they interacted with the real characters. Initially I felt quite put off by them being on stage – with such a detailed set (and plot) the extra people feel unnecessary, although it heightens the unreal, theatrical drama of the piece.
At times some of the vocals are overpowered by the music. And, at least from the stalls, the surtitles are almost prohibitively high up. The opera is sung in English, which lessens the need for them, but on occasion it’s handy to be able to consult them. Non-English opera be a trickier ask in this venue.
The show is perhaps strongest when centered on the double acts of Figaro and Almaviva or the older Bartolo and Basilio. Some of the best moments though are the busy scenes where director Giles Havergal makes wonderful use of Russell Craig’s inventive multiple-tiered set.
Figaro (Jacques Imbrailo) and Count Almaviva (Andrew Kennedy) make a boisterous and confident double act working together to win Rosina for the Count, overcoming the various obstacles in their way. Imbrailo is dynamic and charming, directing the action as Figaro from within the piece.
In the true style of commedia there are multiple identities, escape ladders, surprise exits and entrances, silly disguises. The comedy is especially strong from Bartolo (Eric Roberts) and Basilio (Clive Bayley) who, by their mannerisms and with wonderful comic timing and physical presence barely need to open their mouths to raise a laugh from this appreciative and knowledgeable audience.