WHAT joy! Live opera, and for the first time in our home town. It’s not that we have been starved of opera these past 18 months. Quite the contrary – we have seen more, with bigger name stars, than ever before, thanks to the wonders of streaming from the New York Met, the Royal Opera and Glyndebourne.
But nothing can replace the thrill of live performance, the jeopardy of a singer, in this case just a few metres away, preparing to hit one of Rossini’s taxing top notes or tackling one of the famously demanding arias. Will she/he make it … hold your breath … and, yes!
The first appearance on stage of the Hong Kong baritone Michael Chun Ting Kam was indeed thrilling. Figaro, the barber of the title, strides on stage, singing “Largo al factotum” – probably the best-known and most imitated baritone aria of all. It’s cocky, swaggering and oh so familiar. Get this right, and the audience will be putty in the barber’s skilfull hands for the rest of this daft but entertaining story. Lam makes an endearing Figaro, boastful, resourceful, with a wry smile and a big voice that goes very deep and resounds around the hall. The richness of Lam’s vocar range will surely show to greater advantage in the larger space of Strode Theatre at Street, where Bath Opera has an August date.
Count Almaviva, first seen as the lovelorn student Lindoro, pining musically outside Dr Bartolo’s house, is played by tenor Robert Felstead, returning to Bath Opera after February 2020’s Faust. He describes the role as “a step up in musical difficulty with many more notes per word,” but he rises to the challenge, demonstrating both vocal dexterity and witty characterisation.
Mezzo soprano Katharine Cooper completes what she calls Rossini’s “Three Peaks challenge” as Rosina (the other roles are Angelina in La Cenerentola and Isabella in L’Italiana in Algeri). Unlike the same character in Mozart’s darker and more complex Marriage of Figaro, Rossini’s Rosina is a flirty girl, so romantic (and so desperate to escape from her grasping old guardian) that she falls in love with an apparently penniless student singing in the street. Cooper’s warm and flexible voice copes well with Rossini’s demands and brings a lively energy to a role that is given little character to work on.
Niall Hoskin brings all the experience of many years on the opera stage to the role of Bartolo, a greedy, arrogant, old fool (with a dreadful wig). The audience enjoyed the startling transition from rich bass to falsetto in the singing lesson scene.
Edward Harper’s Don Basilio is a shoe-in for this veteran singer. The wily Basilio (even the name is oily) will do anything for money, and Harper squeezes the maximum laughs from the part.
The other roles are Berta the maid, played by Becky Holden, in her debut as a named character after years in the Bath Opera chorus; Richard Hathway as the soldier and the notary; and John Clark, whose height gives him a commanding presence befitting the army captain he plays here. The musical director and excellent accompanist is Peter Blackwood.
Director Jane Clark has had to contend with the uncertainties and difficulties of COVID and the lockdowns, with rehearsals abandoned, resumed on Zoom, and finally back on stage together. Such an interrupted preparation is hard for director and cast, and Bath Opera deserves a special round of applause for getting the show on the road, and bringing live performance to Wincanton. We hope they will keep us on their itinerary for future tours (next February‘s opera will be Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Eugene Onegin).
Bath Opera will perform The Barber of Seville at the Rondo Theatre, Bath, on 15th and 16th July, Great Chalfield Manor near Bradford-on-Avon on 6th and 7th August, Strode Theatre, Street, on 9th August, a return to Wincanton Memorial Hall on 11th August, and Kingsbury Green at Calne on 13th and 14th August. www.bathopera.com