OperaUpClose’s La bohème was always going
to be a hard act to follow. The
problem with their new Barber of Seville is that, unlike the
Puccini which came out new-minted, there’s nothing to distinguish it from all
the other budget productions of Rossini’s comedy out there.
Director Robin Norton-Hale’s version of the text,
which sets the opera in Jane Austen’s England, is witty and fluent but is let
down by poor production values.
Patron Jonathan Miller, at a pre-performance
launch event for London’s latest opera house, suggested that opera doesn’t
always need sets or costumes and a little Peter Brook-style austerity wouldn’t
have gone amiss here.
A period setting without sufficient budget to do it justice
too easily looks like theatrical tat and this is close to village hall G&S. It’s as well that musical standards are
high and there’s robust (if not always subtle) singing from all the principals.
The fast pace and running around will no doubt delight those
with a taste for broad comedy but, for me, wildly semaphored acting is no
replacement for truthfulness and comic timing.
This fresh, young company, now resident in Islington’s
“Little Opera House”, already has a glittering past and certainly has an ambitious schedule lined up, but I
hope that, if it’s to find a house style, the benchmark will be La bohème rather than this impoverished Barber.