Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Pop up: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Popup Opera - Il Barbiere di Sivigla
Popup Opera - Il Barbiere di Sivigla
Rossini Il Barbiere di Sivigla; Joseph Doody, Leif Jone Ølberg, Flora McIntosh, Tom Asher, Emily Blanch, James Hurley, Berrak Dyer; Popup Opera at the Brunel Museum
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jun 22 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Lively and intimate touring performance of Rossini's comic perennial

PopUp Opera have yet another outstanding production in Rossini's 1816 opera buffa "Il Barbiere di Siviglia", with Joseph Doody, Leif Jone Ølberg, Flora McIntosh, Tom Asher, Emily Blanch, directed by James Hurley, musical director Berrak Dyer.

I saw the performance on the 22 June 2016 at the Brunel Museum, which has undergone a transformation since my last visit. Congratulations have to be in order for the museum's tenacity in opening up this historic and atmospheric space. Gone is the hole which you needed to crawl through to gain entrance. Gone are the scaffolding and rickety stairs. Instead there is a grandiose steel and wood staircase, which dominates the back of the cylinder. Despite their size, the new stairs somehow manage not to impose their personality on the rest of the space, allowing it to retain the original faded-industrial feel. The old entrance is just visible high up on the wall.

The bar, which previously had been someone selling bottles and crisps from a table in front of the museum, is now a stylish roof top terrace with plants, heaters and cocktails.

Pop up opera, who you may have heard on BBC Radio 4 if you are an Archers fan, was founded in 2010 by Clementine Lovell and joined in 2012 by Fiona Johnston as Producer and in 2014 by Berrak Dyer the Musical Director and pianist. This production was directed by James Hurley.

"Il Barbiere di Siviglia" is the first of three satirical plays about the mischievous Figaro written by Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799 ) in around 1765 - "Le nozze di Figaro" by Mozart is based on the second of the trilogy. Because of the play's attitude towards aristocracy, King Louis XVI originally banned performances of the plays, however, due to revisions and pressure from within the royal court, the ban was lifted. Subsequently all the plays became very popular, even with the aristocracy.

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) was not the first composer to be interested in converting this play into an opera. Rossini worked with librettist Cesare Sterbini, who he had previously collaborated with to create "Torvaldo e Dorliska" (1815), writing the music for "The barber" in under two weeks. Giovanni Paisiello (1782), Nicolas Isouard (1796), and Francesco Morlacchi (1815) all had premieres of "The barber" before Rossini, and it is thought that Paisiello's professional jealousy was the driving force behind the crowd booing and hissing at Rossini's own premiere. By the second performance the public had completely changed their minds and " Almaviva, o sia L'inutile precauzione", as it was first known, has remained a favourite with audiences since.

The setting is up to date (or somewhere in the last 30 years) with Figaro in a tracksuit and bumbag, Count Almaviva as the student Lindoro in a cardigan, and Rosina in a cocktail dress. The staging is minimal (as we would expect for Pop up opera) with the cast themselves moving bits and pieces around as they need them, or as the action requires, such as the ladder used by Figaro and Count Almaviva to "rescue" Rosina being constructed out of chairs. The piano is an integral piece of staging as well as being the "extensive orchestra" and the pianist, Dyer, integrated into the comedy.

Subtitles are projected on to the wall facing the audience. Unlike a conventional opera these do not slavishly translate the libretto, but rather are used to explain what is going on in a humorous way and to pass social comment on the characters or current affairs "#hashtag". Pop up opera subtitles are always a delightful experience, and this was no exception, managing to entertain without detracting attention from the action on stage.

There is a double cast, see below. All of the singing was first rate, yet at no time does the action stop nor do people fall out of character in order to force the audience to acknowledge the quality of the singing. Each of the arias was given a definite personality by the performers. Joseph Doody as Count Almaviva played a soppy Lindoro during "Ecco, ridente in cielo" as he serenaded Rosina: the small cast precluded lots of musicians on stage to help - but that gap was filled by Dyer.

The famous "Largo al factotum" aria for Figaro was given a seedy aspect by Leif Jone Ølberg, handing out cards as everyone left. Flora McIntosh made a worldly wise Rosina throughout "Una voce poco fa" and "La calunnia è un venticello" - the words made more personal by Rosina composing them with the encouragement of Dyer. During the singing lesson while Rosina sang "l'Inutile Precauzione" (the useless precaution), antics with headphones and an amplifier allowed the two lovers to caress and Basilio to be sent away. Perhaps he had Zika?

As Basilio/Fiorello, Tom Asher's "La calunnia è un venticello" set the scene for blackmail by Figaro, where incriminating photos were taken and used to force Basilio's cooperation. James Schouten had lovely control during Dr Bartolo's "A un dottor della mia sorte". Even the hardworking Emily Blanch as the maid Berta finally had her moment in the spotlight with "Il vecchiotto cerca moglie".

Of particular note were the duets and group singing and conversations during which it can be easy for the music to gain the upper hand over the sense. For example between Figaro and Count Almaviva as they plot how Almaviva can meet Rosina, and between Rosina and Figaro, and Rosina and James Schouten as Dr Bartolo towards the end of the first act. The trio "Fredda ed immobile" between Rosina, Almaviva and Bartolo was especially charming, before much silliness with a water pistol.

Pop up's opera buffa mixes great singing and storytelling with slapstick, riot and up to date satire as Rossini would have intended. A definite one not to miss. You can still catch "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" as it tours the UK until February 2017, see the PopUp-Opera website for details.

James Hurley - Stage Director
Berrak Dyer - Musical Director, Pianist
Fiona Johnston - Producer, Company Stage Manager
Kate McStraw - Producer
Clementine Lovell - Artistic Director, Producer
James Schouten - Bartolo
Alistair Ollerenshaw - Bartolo
Joseph Doody - Count Almaviva
Ciarán O'Leary - Count Almaviva
Katie Slater - Rosina
Flora McIntosh - Rosina
Steven East - Basilio/Fiorello
Tom Asher - Basilio/Fiorello
Emily Blanch - Berta
Tom Stoddart - Figaro
Leif Jone Ølberg - Figaro
Harry Percival - Captions Writer
Timothy Cape - Captions Operator
Elizabeth Lovell - Captions Operator
Sonia Chapman - Company Stage Manager
Michalis Angelakis - Pianist
Richard Leach - Pianist 

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