Jonathan Miller’s production of The Barber of Seville has reached the grand old age of 25. While that should be a cause for celebration, this eleventh revival fails to catch fire and is likely to satisfy only the least demanding appetite. There’s no reason it should be routine, with some of our brightest young singers giving debut performances but there was a leaden feel to the first night that made Rossini’s opera seem longer than it is.
Benedict Nelson has a degree of swagger for Figaro’s entrance aria but seems much of the time to be coasting. Is there an element of complacency from this promising artist, given the rapidity with which the management are handing him plum roles at the moment? Andrew Kennedy as Almaviva works a little harder but lacks the requisite sheen and it’s left to Lucy Crowe’s Rosina to brighten the stage, which she does at every appearance.
Andrew Shore’s celebrated Bartolo is a known commodity and it still does its stuff, although some of the gags and character tics look a tad tired now. Katherine Broderick, boosted perhaps by her forthcoming Cardiff Singer of the World appearance, has fun with the small role of Berta and David Soar fills Don Basilio’s shoes capably.
Being sung in English doesn't help, despite Amanda and Anthony Holden’s elegant and witty translation. The language descends on the work like a dense London mist and extinguishes the light. There’s a building sense that ENO have to address the issue of Opera in English and maybe think about presenting the Italian classics, at least, in the original language.
Perhaps there’s also something inherent in Miller’s production itself (here revived by Peter Relton), as earlier runs have also failed to rise to the heights this wittiest of operas can and should. Certainly, it sits squarely in the safe and dependable box and it’s time ENO gave the opera a touch of the treatment that so many other works have received in recent times. How about a thorough work-over from Calixto Bieito or David Alden or, better still, let Deborah Warner do for it what she did for Sheridan’s School for Scandal and blow our socks off?
New conductor Jaime Martin, a former principal flute with the ENO Orchestra, leads an adequate performance of the score, with tempi sluggish at times but adding oomph here and there, not least in the jaunty final ensemble.
The show is worth seeing for Crowe, who really has the sparkle that’s lacking elsewhere. Her agile and sweet-toned coloratura and lively stage presence are a delight. Other than that, the chief appeal will be for those comfortable with a competent but unadventurous piece of frippery. I can't help feeling that Rossini deserves more effort.
- Simon Thomas