When The English Concert strikes up, conductor Douglas Boyd deftly brings out the delicacy of the strings: we know at once that we are settling in for a witty evening.
Count Almaviva has fallen in love with a beautiful young woman, Rosina, and comes to her house in Seville to woo her. However, Rosina has a guardian, Dr Bartolo, who plans to marry her himself. With the help of Figaro, the local barber and general factotum, the count makes successive – and finally successful – attempts in different disguises to get to Rosina.
Johannes Kammler as Figaro arrives for work. Photo: Julian Guidera
Simon Higlett's charming design reveals one of the narrow streets in 1930s Seville, its shopfronts adorned with scuffed bullfighting posters. Later a spacious and sumptuous Art Deco interior is revealed.
Director Christopher Luscombe plays up Rossini’s masterpiece with relish, giving the singers the chance to display both their operatic skills and a comic touch.
The first act opens with the count leading a band of musicians to Rosina’s house to serenade her, going criss-crossing the stage and singing lustily that they must be quiet – 'piano, pianissimo, senza parlar'. Tenor Andrew Stenson, as the Count, is in fine voice as the pining lover driven to distraction by the band of players.
Simon Higlett's sumptuous set. Photo: Julian Guidera
Figaro, played by Johannes Kammler, launches into his well-known opening aria –'Figaro qua, Figaro là – as he cycles on to the stage. The German baritone’s performance shows why the singer is in such demand.
Mezzo-soprano Katie Bray's Rosina is as much in charge of her destiny as she is of her high notes. Bray displays perfect timing as she flicks through her magazine in time to the music. Where she goes higher, her music teacher, Don Basilio, goes lower: Callum Thorpe has a gorgeously rich, deep voice. Richard Burkhard's Dr Bartolo is outwitted in the plot but holds his own on stage with neat comic timing.
The mayhem of the final scene in act one, where the police pour into the house in comically large numbers to arrest and then release the count, sends out a very happy audience to picnic under the red kites.
Figaro here, Figaro there.... Johannes Kammler in The Barber of Seville. Photo: Julian Guidera
There’s another piece of sure-footed direction at the opening of the second act. Just as Rossini recycled the Barbiere overture from previous operas, so the orchestra eases in diners after the long supper interval with an overture cheekily pinched from his own Sigismondo.
In the fast-moving second act the endless repetition that Rossini’s comedy involves is skillfully handled so it never wearies, Rosina and Figaro repeatedly singing that they must leave immediately – while going nowhere.
Garsington Opera, on the other hand, is definitely going places with this stylish comedy, and three other productions to come.
The Barber of Seville is sung in Italian with English surtitles. Further performances are on 2, 8, 10,12, 17 June, 7, 9, 16, 18, 22 July
|What||The Barber of Seville, Garsington Opera review|
|Where||Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate , Stokenchurch, HP14 3YG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Marylebone (underground)|
31 May 23 – 22 Jul 23, 10 performances remaining. Running time 2hr 30min plus 90min dinner interval
|Price||£155-£235 including voluntary donation of £70|
|Website||Click here for details and booking|