The Barber of Seville, Iford Festival

ROSSINI’S The Barber of Seville, the “prequel” to The Marriage of Figaro, is widely regarded as the greatest opera buffa of the genre, bringing broad comedy into the operatic repertoire.

It lends itself to a variety of settings, and Charles Court Opera’s at the Iford Festival is perhaps the most ingenious to date. Here the action is in a Wild West saloon, where the bachelor Count Alma­viva has landed up during his US travels and meets Figaro, the barber he knew back in Seville. It could be a cumbersome conceit if it wasn’t thoroughly thought through and performed with conviction but the company brings it off brilliantly.

Using the Jonathan Lyness orchestral reduction heard twice before at Iford (in 1998 and 2009), conductor David Eaton has concocted a marvellously witty new libretto full of familiar phrases. Even when the words tear and strain to rhyme, the performers’ panache carries them through.

If you are an opera purist or rampant Rossini-ite you might find that the action and the words detract from the music, but I suspect that this was intended as a romp from the start, so this inventive transposition is in the spirit of the work.

Directed by John Savournin, it reflects the company’s reputation as Gilbert and Sulli­van experts. I half expected to hear “But damn it you DON’T go,” as Figaro was encouraging Almaviva and Rosina to stop their wooing and leave the stage.

Bartolo is the saloon owner, planning to marry his gold mine heiress ward Rosina. I think they might rewrite the theatrical adage about animals and children to include Richard Suart. Here’s a performer who can fill the Coliseum with his personality, so what chance does intimate little Iford have with him giving his Bartolo. It’s another comic masterpiece from this wonderful old stager, all twirling moustache and audience asides and even a few shots of the hard stuff for the stewards.

John-Colyn Gyeantey, Tamino in the 2016 Flute, returns as a compact and beautifully sung Count, with Philip Smith as an elegant Figaro. Samantha Price delighted the audience as the feisty Rosina, and Matthew Kellett is particularly impressive in the role of Don Basilion, with Andrea Tweedale as the lusty barmaid and Matt­hew Palmer as both sheriff and grizzled old varmint.

It’s all huge fun, with storms, flickering lights and shoot-outs. Double-entendres and cunning plans abound and romance wins through in the end.

There are performances on 28th and 30th June and 1st July, but as usual with Iford, it’s returns only by this stage.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


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