The Royal Opera House’s fifth revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s 2005 staging of The Barber of Seville sees rising stars rubbing shoulders with veteran performers, conducted with startling vivacity by Venezuelan firecracker Rafael Payare.
Shrugging off the revolutionary social subtext, the production’s Fellini-esque visuals jostle with slapstick elements that reflect the opera’s commedia dell’arte roots. However, apart from a plethora of oversized proboscises, and some spectacular hydraulics that lend a farcical feeling of seasickness to the first-act finale, the comedy relies on a cast capable of subtly heightened acting. Despite having the original directors on hand, degrees of stylisation are inconsistent here, and stage business occasionally lacks motivation.
Chief vocal honours go to up-and-coming Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina whose burgundy lower register and pinpoint coloratura are matched by impressive reserves of power. Her determined Rosina is a coiled spring, passing time by throwing darts at the walls of her spartan prison. Andrzej Filończyk’s Figaro is more likely lad than arch manipulator, but he has a heroic instrument, crowned by fearless top notes and a show-stopping gift for quickfire patter.
Lawrence Brownlee’s debonair tone makes him a supple Almaviva. Fabio Capitanucci, however, is vocally underwhelming and dramatically penny plain as the tyrannical Bartolo. It’s Ailish Tynan as Berta, his browbeaten maid, who shows how it should be done in a razor-sharp cameo, though Bryn Terfel gives her a run for her money. His greasy haired Basilio is a creepy delight, all sotto voce insinuations and unnerving Nosferatu hands.
Making his ROH debut, Payare, who holds prestigious posts in Montreal and San Diego, might seem an odd choice for Rossini. His reputation, after all, rests on big hitters such as Mahler and Shostakovich. Not a bit of it. His perky, pacy reading is full of light and shade, with nimbly sprung rhythms crisp as an iceberg lettuce.