As comedy vehicles go, this is a Rolls Royce. Sir Thomas Allen (who created this production in 2007) has been called in to give a directorial polish and make sure all the parts fit together. And they do: perfectly.
The comic spirit is earthily British
Right from the off, we see the quality and attention to detail. The orchestra brings a superb delivery of the overture, while the lush stage set (designed by Simon Higlett) shows a gradually waking street packed with the lively citizens (soldiers, police, street performers, window cleaners) that take regular part in later scenes.
The setting is Hispanic: Figaro’s dashing costume is a sort of mariachi Elvis, with the Spanish theme so effective in Figaro’s guitar accompaniment to Count Almaviva and Rosina’s canzona in Act 1. Mark Jonathan’s superb lighting design helps, with the Spanish sun streaming through the windows of Doctor Bartolo’s house. We even have a couple of random nuns just to round it off.
Despite this, the comic spirit is earthily British, with elements reminiscent of Monty Python and the Carry On and Confessions films. There are flatulence jokes and much slapstick. (And proof that a good physical joke only improves with repetition.) Comedic effect takes priority over setting, with details such as Almaviva’s servant, Fiorello, munching on french sticks, which everyone knows is the only bread that’s funny.
The opera is sung in English (Amanda Holden’s translation of 1987). Music sung in a language it was not designed for has its drawbacks, but in opera buffa it also has advantages, the native English giving scope for witty rhymes and allowing phrases such as ‘finger in every pie’ and ‘drunk as a lord’ to be put to great use.
There are no weak links in the cast, from the lead roles to the metaphorical spear-carriers. Samuel Dale Johnson as Figaro gives the enormously enjoyable impression that he is enjoying himself enormously. You wouldn’t choose a Figaro who couldn’t make a meal out of Largo al factotum, and Dale Johnson eats it up with cat-got-the-cream gusto, he is also in superb form in the duets with Almaviva.
A huge pleasure is the beautiful tenor of Anthony Gregory’s Count Almaviva whose range of exquisite singing runs through love duets to comic songs and whose acting carries the multiple disguises of Almaviva with terrific wit. The music lesson scene between Almaviva (in disguise, of course), Rosina and Dr Bartolo (whose imitation castrato is pitch-perfectly painful) is a tour de force.
Simone McIntosh as Rosina gives animated character acting throughout; stirring the heart during the love songs and dazzling the ears with her mastery of coloratura.
David Stout gives a non-stop clown masterclass as Dr Bartolo and John Molloy’s Don Basilio reeks of venality. This standard is maintained throughout the cast, including a stand out aria from Inna Husieva as the old maid Berta.
Once the current tour has completed, please please put this vehicle back in the garage and keep it suitably preserved. Like the gags it contains, this production deserves to run and run.