The Barber of Seville, Opera Project at Bristol Tobacco Factory

PRODUCERS of modern blockbuster musicals spend a fortune acquiring the best equipment and expertise to ensure that the mixture of music and vocals on offer to their audiences is ideal for the show they are presenting. If you look at the sound desk  these experts have to deal with for a show like The Lion King, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon or Phantom of the Opera, you will appreciate just how costly and complex the machinery these experts have to manipulate is.

Opera Project have neither the money or necessity for such aides because they have the expertise of Jonathan Lyness at their disposal. Once again with this production he has created a reduced orchestration of a full opera score, that robs it of little if anything, gathered together a mixture of ten musicians to play this new orchestration in a delightful manner, provided an ideal backing for the singers and a sound that fits equally well into the Tobacco Factory.

Director and designer Rich­ard Studer provides a production that overcomes nearly all the problems of staging the opera in the restricted in-the- round setting of this unique theatrical space. The only thing that really did not work was the need for a two tiered set which helps the humour in the attempted abdication of the beautiful Rosina from her pompous guardian Dr Bartolo.

Studer’s witty translation fitted the style of this slightly tongue-in-cheek production admirably, and the way in which he maneuvered his cast, especially in sequences where a number of singers combined, ensuring that all of the audience were able to enjoy the humour in the lyrics, was a was a lesson in the use of the space without leaving the impression that moves were not natural.

There were moments when the action became a trifle blurred and others when a little more comic business would have added to the overall enjoyment. In saying that, we are trying to gild the lily a bit when talking about a production that invariably skipped along at a merry pace with its eyes always on the lookout for a chance to entertain.

Just as Jonathan Lyness had chosen his musicians with care to create a  team, so had the director with the singers. There was no question of any of this seven-strong group dominating the vocals. Each in their turn took advantage of the opportunities that came their way. Whether it was the sparkling eyed Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, as Rosina, with a sly smile almost permanently raising the corners of her delicate mouth as she hit just the right dramatic note as she did vocally, or Jane Holesworth, as the maid Berta, who grabbed her one chance of a solo with greedy talented vocal chords.

Many more chances for Philip Smith as Figaro, surely the only former Surveyor of Otters in England to be singing leading roles in opera, and William Wallace, as suitably lovesick Count Almaviva, to demonstrate the ability to extract a great deal of fun from an opera that constantly reminds you that Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas were waiting just around the corner.

Some of Nicholas Folwell’s  tongue twisting lyrics as a beautifully underplayed Dr Bartolo had G and S written all over them. Julian Close went almost to the other extreme. all but overplaying the money-grabbing Don Basilio with great vocal authority, and with Mark Saberton adding two neat cameos, this was a fine vocal team for a production that was founded on the excellent work of Jonathan Lyness and Richard Studer.

The production can be seen at the Tobacco Factory until Saturday 5th October.


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