Glyndebourne Festival Opera's new production of Il Barbiere - its first since 1982 - has a physical theatre pedigree, directed as it is by Annabel Arden, a co-founder of the inventive theatre company Complicite. The actors who weave constantly through the action are clearly designed to bring movement to otherwise static scenes, albeit with only partial success. But Arden resists the temptation to overanimate music that can do all its busy work unaided.
The opera has some of Rossini's most dizzying music and showstopping ensembles. As rebellious Rosina, soprano Danielle de Niese is on home turf, but there are several house debuts here, none more exciting than the first appearance of the German-born baritone Björn Bürger as the fixer Figaro, the barber of the title.
Bürger's is just the sort of career that is sealed by a brilliant Glyndebourne debut like this. With his supremely musical singing, engaging stage presence, clean-limbed, easy movement, open countenance and sympathetic feel for ensemble singing, he is sure to pop up all over from now on. Catch him if you can, at Glyndebourne this year, or at base camp in Frankfurt, or wait for the inevitable roles ahead: more Don Giovannis (he has done one for Oslo), and with luck, Billy Budd.
As the suitor Almaviva, the Australian tenor Taylor Stanton grows into the part with his gliding, whinnying impersonation of a cleric in the second act. The Italian baritone Alessandro Corbelli as the jealous guardian Doctor Bartolo engages in some entertaining backchat with his countryman in the pit, Enrique Mazzola, conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra - on sparkling form with their witty woodwind and scintillating string sound - and replacing at late notice Robin Ticciati, who is indisposed.
Breaking the fourth wall with such banter is a cheerful device at Glyndebourne, where stage and auditorium virtually flow into one, but Joanna Parker's wallpapery set hints at Rosina's enclosed existence, where even an opened window only gives on to prison-like grilles beyond.
Another Glyndebourne debut comes from Janis Kelly, by no means a newcomer to the profession, having sung at houses worldwide in a distinguished career. That she is only now appearing for the first time at the Sussex house says a lot about its casting policy in the past, and in the future, and the increasing use of such fine British artists is, alongside the introduction of Björn Bürger, a good-news story at least as heartening as Il Barbiere di Siviglia's happy ending.
|What||Il Barbiere di Siviglia review , Glyndebourne|
|Where||Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex, BN8 5UU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Victoria (underground)|
22 May 16 – 17 Jul 16, Times vary
|Price||£15 - £260|
|Website||Click here to book via Glyndebourne|