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Seen and Heard Opera Review


Rossini, The Barber of Seville Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera/Dominic Wheeler, Coliseum, February 16th, 2005 (CC)

Budapest-trained Dominic Wheeler, who conducted the final performance of Siegfried in November, is a conductor I want to see and hear more of. His handling of the overture to Rossini’s Barber of Seville had an almost Mozartian swiftness about it (although, puzzlingly, fortes seemed more like mezzo-fortes from the stalls) and certainly prepared the audience for the ensuing tomfoolery. The ENO orchestra were at its considerable best (a sure sign of its respect for Wheeler), reacting to dramatic situations with split-second accuracy.


Jonathan Miller’s fertile imagination seems particularly inspired by the lighter side of Seville life (this ninth revival of the 1987 original is by William Relton). Thus, the opening group of actors and musicians who accompany the Count is straight from the Commedia dell’arte (this applies to gestures – almost Coco the Clown – as well as costumes).

Charles Workman is the Count Almaviva (a role he has undertaken here before). Confident and vocally strong, if not holding himself with an aura of true nobility, this Count is more than adequate. Faint praise? Perhaps, but all becomes plain (and defensible) when Andrew Shore takes to the stage as Rosina’s guardian, Doctor Bartolo, whose full yet amazingly agile voice is a joy, and whose stage presence is second to none. Shore, a great character actor, is really the true star of this Barber. Throughout, his timing in recitative was beyond criticism.

All becomes clearer in the specifics of casting when one realises that Shore and Workman work so well together vocally. The cast seems handpicked so that any one given combination will see characters sparking off one another. And it is this spark that Rossini is all about. Of course, this particular Rossini is in one sense ‘about’ the Barber, here taken by Mark Stone (last seen, and admired, by this reviewer last September at ENO in Don Giovanni). If all was not entirely happy between soloist and orchestra in the ‘Largo al factotum,’ there is no denying Stone’s ability to project a character’s cocky confidence.

Rosina is, of course, vital. Company Principal Alison Roddy is equipped with the perfect, girlish voice for the part, and her instrument is indeed as agile as she is coquettish. ‘Una voce poco fa’ was the almost perfect example of this (although she started a little shrill and tremulous). Robert Pomakov’s Don Basilio is entertaining, the comic timing in the Act II ‘confrontations’ with Figaro pure delight. It was in this second act that one became fully aware of how expertly Rossini crafts his farce. Mary Lloyd-Davies certainly deserves a mention for her humorous portrayal of Bartolo’s housekeeper, Berta, thoroughly enjoying the chances Rossini gives her to shine.

Ensembles remained not only superb throughout but evidence in sound of the excellence of casting. Apart from some creaking scenery between the two parts of Act I, the minutiae of staging and lighting enhance the stage antics. This is a Barber that sparkles like champagne, the entire company working towards a magnificent expression of Rossini’s genius. Do go and see it.

Colin Clarke

Photo © Robert Workman, Rossini’s Barber of Seville, ENO, February 2005



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