The Barber of Seville review – engaging Rossini reboot of sight gags and

Festival theatre, Edinburgh
A young ensemble cast fizzes in Laurent Pelly’s playful production, with Catherine Trottmann’s agile Rosina most memorable

There’s not a powdered wig or an 18th-century frock coat in sight in Théâtre des Champs-Élysées’ production of The Barber of Seville. Laurent Pelly’s modish take on Rossini’s opera is an extended visual gag on the nuts and bolts of the composer’s trade, the action playing out across the manuscript page. There are some droll touches: the arrival of the soldiers brandishing music stands instead of swords and Rosina’s singing lesson taking place on the score of the very aria she is rehearsing. There are also moments that seem overdone, particularly the snowing giant black confetti in the final scene, perhaps meant to suggest the torrent of musical notes heralding the opera’s completion, but looking like nothing so much as ash from a peculiar volcanic eruption.

Whether these visual games add anything meaningful to the psychodrama of the opera is up for debate. However, the staging does provide an excellent backdrop for a pleasingly physical performance from a youthful, engaging cast. Guillaume Andrieux is a slyly Puckish ruffian of a Figaro, complete with long pigtail and musical clef tattoos, well matched by Catherine Trottmann as a trouser-clad, fiesty Rosina. Only Michele Angelini’s Count Almaviva seems disadvantaged in this modernist take: shorn of his aristocratic hauteur, he comes across as sweetly lovelorn and rather defenceless.

Interaction is everything … The Barber of Seville.
Interaction is everything … The Barber of Seville. Photograph: Tina Norris/Rex/Shutterstock

With the exception of Trottmann’s light and agile Rosina, this isn’t a production of particularly memorable vocal performances. Andrieux’s delivery of Figaro’s introductory Largo al Factotum was decidedly underwhelming on the Edinburgh opening night (possibly not aided by the fact he was descending from the rafters in a swing). Angelini has a lovely, light, bright tenor but it lacks the power to command Almaviva’s final set-piece aria convincingly. In the event, these potential shortcomings matter less than might be expected: the strength of this production is its success as an ensemble piece, like a fast-paced farce where sharp timing and interaction between the performers is everything.

In the pit, conductor Jérémie Rhorer and the period-instrument ensemble Cercle de l’Harmonie keep the performance fizzing amiably along in softer-hued tones than one is accustomed to hearing in modern-instrument performances of Rossini, underpinning what is undoubtedly a crowd-pleasing romp of a production.

Festival theatre, Edinburgh, ends 8 August.


Rowena Smith

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
La Cenerentola review – Cinderella has a ball with exuberant panto kitsch
Stefan Herheim’s Lyon Opera production is hyperactively camp – even the conductor has a cameo – but the singing is warm and rich

Rowena Smith

26, Aug, 2018 @9:57 AM

Article image
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Harding review – joyous and radiant Mahler
In the international festival’s closing concert, Daniel Harding explored the light and shade of Mahler’s huge eighth symphony in an unforced and uplifting reading

Rowena Smith

27, Aug, 2018 @2:33 PM

Article image
The Beggar's Opera review – the original jukebox musical reimagined
An updated version of John Gay’s classic features gags about the royal wedding and Brexit, but the music has missed a trick

Rowena Smith

17, Aug, 2018 @4:00 PM

Article image
What Girls Are Made Of review – I was a teenage indie star
Darlingheart’s Cora Bissett writes and stars in an artfully told look at the highs and lows of her time in a band

Kate Wyver

15, Aug, 2018 @6:09 AM

Article image
Brexit gags, catsuits and coke-snorting cops: A Beggar's Opera for our times
John Gay’s 18th century satire is a work whose essential remit is to confront the uncomfortable. How is Robert Carsen’s take dealing with the homeless crisis, Brexit and the #metoo movement?

Kate Molleson

15, Aug, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
The Spinners review – goddesses on a quietly stunning odyssey
The three Fates of Greek mythology preside over human destiny from a cosmic sweatshop in this captivating piece of dance-theatre

Anna Winter

06, Aug, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Kieran Hodgson review – Brexit history skit is jam-packed with funny
Ted Heath and Harold Wilson feature in a terrific caricature comedy that traces Britain’s EU troubles back to the 70s

Brian Logan

04, Aug, 2018 @4:29 PM

Article image
Island Town review – slugging cider, getting laid and yearning to escape
Simon Longman’s teen tale of ‘left behind’ Britain pulls no emotional punches but risks becoming two-dimensional

Catherine Love

07, Aug, 2018 @11:10 AM

Article image
La Maladie de la Mort review – clinical dissection of male gaze
Katie Mitchell and Alice Birch’s stage adaptation of a Marguerite Duras novella is skilfully designed but strangely dulling

Kate Wyver

17, Aug, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
This Is the Title review – elegant b-boy dance exhilarates and frustrates
Ima Iduozee slinks and swoops with insouciant ease in this solo piece, but patchy sound design and a ponderous self-indulgence hold the show back

Anna Winter

04, Aug, 2018 @2:06 PM