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New Zealand Opera
Auckland, New Zealand

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Opera review: The Barber of Seville

Lindy Hume’s production of The Barber of Seville for State Opera South Australia is a delightful romp that uproariously brings to life the mischievous liar, womaniser and conman Figaro. It’s colourfully vivacious, flamboyant and, most importantly, extremely well sung. Plus it has a few clever modern touches, too, that hoist this venerable 200-year-old comic opera into the present. Hume and costumes designer Tracy Grant Lord essentially thrust us back into the era of lords and ladies in 17th-century Spain, into which Figaro swoops as a kind of latter-day renegade rock star. They mill about in their customary cloaks and gowns; but he is decked out in a bright purple jumpsuit and black headband, looking rather like a cross between Prince and Elvis Presley. Played with incomparable brilliance by baritone Morgan Pearse, this Figaro is a contemporary breakout hero who operates outside the rigid class barriers that confine his comrades. The best moment is when the action freezes, he strides into the auditorium, with the house lights up, and stops momentarily to say a casual “Hi” to one of the audience members in the front row, then proceeds to the stage to deliver the famous aria “Largo al factotum” with dazzling cheek. Pearse is consummate in this role both vocally and acting-wise. Striking an outstretched Presley pose at the end, he is every bit an updated version of Brighella, the precocious masked servant from the Italian Commedia dell’arte who gave Rossini his inspiration to write The Barber of Seville in the first place, courtesy of Beaumarchais’s 1773 play. Nearly stealing the show later on is bass Douglas McNicol as Doctor Bartolo. He is the stern housemaster who locks away the young Rosina for his future wife – and whom Figaro mocks by lathering shaving cream all over his face and on top of his bald head. McNicol, always a favourite in State Opera productions, has outdone himself yet again in authority, agility and humour. His falsetto aria “Quando mi sei vicina”, to guitar accompaniment in the second act’s music lesson scene, is riotously funny. Also bringing great vocal theatrics to the party is tenor John Longmuir as a bright, sparky Count Almaviva. Clear as a bell on the top notes and navigating Rossini’s super-hard coloratura really well, he makes the perfect serenading lover.

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indaily.com.auGraham Strahle

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