NZ Opera’s performance of The Barber of Seville at the Aotea Centre last night was a riotous triumph both musically and visually. This opera buffa or comic opera is dense with notes and busting with dialogue and action. One could feel quite overwhelmed. At times maybe that’s just how Gioachino Rossini intended, writing with an abundance of youthful energy a piece that would put him on the opera map forever. Indeed since Rossini penned the piece more than 200 years ago, it’s become one of the most performed comic operas.
From the very first notes of the overture, there was fizz. The very excellent Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra played with huge aplomb, always nimble and warm under the deft baton of Wyn Davies. There was lively fortepiano and keyboard continuo playing from David Kelly. And quite a star turn from guitarist Barkin Sertkaya who was roped into the action on stage. The orchestra dashed around the stave with huge verve and in the very complex ensembles never seemed to drop a stitch.
This co-production with Opera Queensland and Seattle Opera is the most lavish production you’re likely to see from NZ Opera this year and it will fill your soul with colour. Setting the show alight was the lighting design by Matthew Marshall which glowed on a gorgeous set designed by Tracy Grant Lord. One of the most richly lit productions in Auckland in recent years, it added depth and beauty to the stage. At times it was as if the stage was a collection of jewel boxes glowing with colour.
There is huge fun with a collage of doorways which give endless opportunities for play. It is like an advent calendar busting with brilliant characters. We have a comic turn from James Harrison as Fiorello, leading his uproarious crew about the stage and even through the incoming audience, a fabulous touch. There are the two servants who provide malevolent as well as hysterical presence throughout.
So many inspired touches like the shivering feather duster and steampunk-style hair of Jesse Wikiriwhi’s Ambrogio. And Berta with hoover and fag in mouth like some character from a Roald Dahl book deliciously performed by Morag Atchison. One of the highlights of the evening was her aria Il Vecchiotto cerca moglie which gave a poignant moment in the opera.
The gargoyle-like Andrew Collis as Bartolo was delightfully excessive. Finally, the slyness of scarlet-gloved and hosed Ashraf Sewailam’s Don Basilio added gorgeous bass tones.
The bombardment of notes and comedic comings and goings was somewhat overwhelming in the finale of Act One. The audience spilt out into the foyer for interval somewhat reeling at Rossini’s excess. But Act Two brought us all on board with its sheer charm and energy once more.
One of the biggest treats was having three excellent vocal leads. Sandra Piques Eddy as Rosina was lusciously voiced, perhaps a timbre on the weighty side for Rossini with a little miss on the top note in the aria Una Voca poco fa but a stunning lower range. The maturity in her tone almost belied her lightness physically - she danced across the stage with lovely young energy.
A secure and ringing bel canto from John Tessier’s Count Almaviva made his exacting role sound so easy. The love duets between the two were a real highlight of beauty and vocal virtuosity.
But, oh my saints what a Figaro! Morgan Pearse blew the place apart... dressed like a version of Adam Ant costumed in purple, he was a sight to behold. This piece must have a Figaro who has enough energy and charisma to hold the production together, Pearse has this role completely within his powers and lit up the ASB Theatre stage.
But, oh my saints what a Figaro! Morgan Pearse blew the place apart as he made his surprise entrance. With an abundance of talent vocally, I doubt you’d ever hear such a fine Largo al Factotum and I’ve heard a few. Not only the notes but this baritone inhabited the character with such flair. And dressed like a version of Adam Ant costumed in purple, he was a sight to behold. This piece must have a Figaro who has enough energy and charisma to hold the production together, Pearse has this role completely within his powers and lit up the ASB Theatre stage.
But the biggest achievement was NZ Opera’s drawing together of an entire cohesive production.
The clear direction from the pit by Davies, the originality of Lord’s set and costumes, and not to mention Lindy Hume’s brilliant staging created crackling pacing and humour. Here is a show that will win you over with every detail, flounce and almost every coloratura dash.
Radio 13 thanks and credits David Rowland for all the images featured in this article.