The Barber of Seville, ENO at the Coliseum
I must confess that I m not, nor ever have been a fan of Rossini. That's probably my fault, but I find his music repetitive and boring; so there was an element of having to drag my feet along to ENO to catch their latest revival of Jonathan Miller s staging. I tried not to laugh, but in the end I capitulated. This is an imaginatively cast, well-rehearsed and wittingly sung revival.
ENO has assembled a hand-picked cast which as an ensemble is impeccable. Christopher Maltman (who won the Lieder prize in last year's Cardiff Singer of the World competition) and Toby Spence were making their first appearances at ENO as new company principals in the roles of Figaro and Almaviva respectively. Maltman forces his beautifully burnished baritone more than is required, but he's a highly engaging artist and I m sure he ll calm down during the run. Likewise Spence's well-schooled tenor seems a touch too light for the Coliseum, but he sings all the florid arias with fearless ease. With company principals of this calibre, the future ensemble at the ENO is looking remarkably strong.
Gordon Sandison nearly steals the show as a perfectly judged Dr Bartolo, every word crisply enunciated, and his comic timing is a gem. Mark Beesley presents an odious Basilio but his aria could do with a bit more heft.
I ve left until last discussing the Rosina of this revival, the renowned Lesley Garrett. It's hard to write about this generous soprano with critical detachment, as she seems so omnipresent (on television, the South Bank Show and numerous CDs) that to criticise becomes a heresy. Well, on this showing, the Diva from Doncaster sings exceptionally well, with much florid ease, thrilling coloratura, and, most importantly, she fits into the ensemble with ease. At no point does she try and upstage her colleagues. That is the mark of a true star.
Mark Shanahan in the pit controls the proceedings with tempos that always seem just a little too slow but which give able support to the less experienced members of the cast. Murray Hipkin's harpiscord playing in the recitatives is exemplary.
A fun evening, and it's certainly worth a visit to raise the spirits on a cold winter night, but be warned. At the performance I attended there was standing room only, so book quickly!