Figaro, Figaro, Feeeeeeegaro!

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People often think that famous operatic moment comes from The Marriage of Figaro but in fact it comes from its prequel, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, which I went to last night.  Rossini’s opera is the second adaptation of Beaumarchais’ play of the same title.

The production has had some lukewarm reviews, first in Melbourne and this week when it opened in Sydney. As I first learnt to say about Mendelssohn’s Elijah when a friend who was in a SUMS performance asked me my opinion at interval, it is a Great Work. I enjoyed The Barber, though I can see what some of the reviewers were getting at.

As presently staged it should really be called The Barber of Barcelona. The set is inspired by Gaudi’s architecture, with a touch of Salvatore Dali thrown in for good measure. Purists may well cavill at this, since Catalonia and Seville are pretty much at opposite ends of Spain.  The picture above is Opera Australia’s publicity shot of the opening scene where the Count, disguised as a student, Lindoro, serenades Rosina with the aid of a band of musicians.

Opera is an art form which attracts at least its share of fanatical devotees, and a quick google on returning home revealed no shortage of informed and acute commentary on this production which I shall not attend to duplicate. However, in the spirit of those film buffs who delight in spotting continuity errors, I shall offer two production notes of my own.

The setting of the opera is described by Opera Australia as a health spa run by Dr Bartolo, Rosina’s guardian. Berta, Rosina’s nurse/duenna is the nurse at the spa, and there is a deal of business involving her taking the temperatures of a gaggle of comic extras who are supposed to be patients. At one point, Berta shook down the mercury in the thermometer after removing it from the patient’s mouth and before reading it. Can this be right?

In keeping with the more modern time frame, Almaviva does not tempt Figaro with a bag of gold (as the libretto still has it) but instead flourishes a cheque book. With some panache, he writes out one cheque using Figaro’s back as a writing-desk, but he neglects to date it.

Staying with movies by way of analogy, I am the sort of person who always checks to see if actors are really playing a musical instrument, especially if it is the piano.

One touch with the present cast which gladdened my heart was that when the Count serenaded Rosina for a second time, José Carbó as Figaro really did accompany him on stage on the guitar as the libretto requires and did so very well, rather than just miming to a guitar from the pit.

Conversely, in the second act the Count, who has managed to get into Dr Bartolo’s house disguised as a singing teacher, accompanies Rosina from the piano. I very much enjoyed Henry Choo‘s exaggerated pianistic miming as well as the the joke within the joke which acknowledged that something much more than a piano was coming from the pit and that, as the aria proceeded and the Count’s hands were increasingly distracted from the keyboard to Rosina, the band nevertheless played on.

One Response to “Figaro, Figaro, Feeeeeeegaro!”

  1. Warlock, The Curlew, Australia Ensemble « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] a GPO Films Unit documentary a few years later. Henry Choo – a singer I admire (seen last year as Almaviva, amongst other roles) – sang these well and with terrific composure – only one high and loud note […]

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