Bristol Theatre News

The Barber of Seville – Review – Welsh National Opera at The Bristol Hippodrome

Our Verdict: A refreshing and exciting production – Just what opera needs right now

Our Rating: 10/10

Tuesday 15 March 2016 at 19.15pm
Sung in English with English Surtitles

When it comes to finding a friend to accompany me to the theatre, I am usually never short of options. That is, until the show is opera. That’s when I find out who my friends really are. Nobody wants to come with me.

And why not is a mystery to me. It’s such a shame because they missed an absolute cracker of a production. The Welsh National Opera breathe new and fresh life into a treasured Rossini farce.

Opera is elitist, it’s boring, the audience are a little set in their way, people whinge. But actually, all three are myths which should be dispelled and certainly have been with this zany production.

WNO The Barber of Seville - Nico Darmanin (Count Almaviva) and Nicholas Lester (Figaro). Photo credit - Richard Hubert Smith 5444-2Resized
Nico Darmanin (Count Almaviva) and Nicholas Lester (Figaro)                           Photo: Richard Hubert Smith


At times bordering on slapstick pantomime, Kelley Rourke’s translation and Sam Brown’s direction, wrings as much humour as possible out of this pop opera, at times making it a delightful parody of itself.

While that is brilliant at appealing to perhaps newer audiences, it would be easy to see traditionalists and the Old School Radio 3 crowd leaving as sourpusses. But this time, let them.

Mesmerising conductor James Southall set the standard high as expected as he steered the orchestra through the overture – obviously while this happens we have a group of giant dancing scissors on stage.

The curtain rises on Fiorello leading a barber shop choir out through a wardrobe, paid to serenade a lady. Want-to-be suitor, Almaviva, shows us exactly where this production is going as he wanders around the stage wearing a Dick Van Dyke style one man band. When he opens his mouth to sing, the choir bring their hands up to their ears. Funny, funny and even funnier when part of the drum accidentally flew off towards the orchestra.

And there’s nothing wrong with funny at the opera, especially not with The Barber of Seville.


 Nicholas Lester (Figaro) Photo credit - Richard Hubert Smith 5411-2
Nicholas Lester (Figaro)
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Rising to the occasion and Man of the Match is Nicholas Lester who shines as Figaro – a barber with a witty tone, canny mind for a plan and all the best tunes in the show. Let’s be honest, the audience are waiting to judge him on the Largo al factotum – that’s the one we all know – and he Figaro Ups, Figaro Downs, laas and haas perfectly.

Lester’s excellent acting and stage presence matches his rich, skillful baritone. He has created a really iconic interpretation. This is definitely a Figaro production the WNO must revive in the future and please bring back Lester when it does so.

The synopsis for opera always sounds a tad complicated on paper but plays out easily on stage.

In his WNO debut, the rather dashing and hysterical Nico Darmanin as Count Almaviva, has fallen in love with a rich heiress Rosina. He is trying to win her affection through a series of amusing scenarios that is not unlike a couple of blokes trying to work out how to pull a woman one of them fancies. Who would understand women, Figaro muses at one point.

An added complication for Almaviva here is that he doesn’t want her to know who he is and wants to know if she will love him rather than his money. Of course, this all adds up to one of many chaotic disguises. Watch out for the drunken boy scout scene, because it is epic.

Almaviva has to thwart the equally scheming Doctor Bartolo who is Rosina’s ward. He is a rather unappealing ageing doctor who has his eye on Rosina’s cash and ‘assets’ and plans to marry her for her money. That is when he’s not having to pull a syringe out of his backside.

Claire Booth (Rosina) Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Claire Booth (Rosina)
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Claire Booth’s Rosina, is smart and sassy and has a beautiful soprano perfectly capable of the demands of the score. Perhaps a little too slutty to begin with, but that would be down to costumer designer Sue Blane, well known for her original cult costumes for the Rocky Horror Show.

But overall the costume design is fab. From Figaro’s shiny red trousers and boater, Almaviva’s Boy Scout Outfit, to the men dressed as women fighting each other with rolling pins and saucepans it works well against Ralph Koltai’s translucent rotating prison feel set.

The Barber of Seville is playing at the Bristol Hippodrome again on Friday 18 March 2016.

It’s part of a Figaro Forever Trilogy the WNO have taken on tour this season which includes The Marriage of Figaro and Figaro Gets a Divorce.

If there are any tickets left do look it up. It’s absolutely not boring in the slightest and you won’t need wine to get you through it.


Further useful links:

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About the WNO:
About this production of The Barber of Seville: –