Wednesday 18 June 2014

Young artists in Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Nicholas Lester in Il Barbiere di Sivigla at Opera Holland Park; Photo Robert Workman
Nicholas Lester  - photo Robert Workman
Rossini Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Christine Collins Youngs Artists performance at Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Sparkling performance of Oliver Platt's inventive new production

This year there two performances by the Christine Collins Young Artists at Opera Holland Park. A performance of Britten's Turn of the Screw in which all but one of the cast members are young artists, and this performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia (16 June). The original production was directed by Oliver Platt and conducted by Matthew Waldren, and for 16 June the conductor was the young Australian Dane Lam, with Fiona Williams as Associate Director (both Christine Collins Young Artists). Regular cast members Nicholas Lester as Figaro, Nico Darmanin as Almaviva, Jonathan Veira as Doctor Bartolo and Nicholas Crawley (standing in for William Allenby) as Don Basilio, were joined by Christine Collins Young Artists Chloe Treharne as Rosina, Rosanne Havel as Berta, Tom Asher as Fiorello, Rene Bloice-Sanders as Ambrogio and Ashley Mercer as an Officer.

Dane Lam started with a highly confident and finely controlled account of the overture. Brilliantly rhythmic, it set the tone for the whole performance and throughout Lam had a confident control of the complex rhythms in Rossini's music, with some nicely steady ensembles and a highly infectious elan. The City of London Sinfonia responded with some vibrantly vivid yet controlled playing.

Platt's production, designed by Neil Irish was traditionally 19th century in setting, placed around the time of composition but with little in the way of Spanish influence. Act one opened with a long streetscape the middle of which opened up to reveal Doctor Bartolo's house. During the interior scenes, the street scape was visible at the sides of the stage and Platt took full advantage of this. So a feature of the production was the constant coming and going of various chorus members in the streetscape, threatening to up stage the principals but never quite doing so.

Throughout Platt kept the stage action busy, perhaps too busy, but much of what happened was very funny. Platt's personen-regie was stylised but detailed and the cast clearly responded creating a lively and involving performance.

It helped that in Nicholas Lester, Platt had a highly personable and vividly projected Figaro. Towering above everyone else, the young Australian baritone had a voice to match and a 100 Watt personality. Lester was quite a find and enlivened the stage without over doing things or mugging. His voice had a nice ping to it, so that from 'Largo al factotum' Lester was a joy to listen to.

Tenor Nico Darmanin did not have Lester's height, but Darmanin has a vibrantly attractive tenor voice and a winning stage persona. His Almanviva was delightfully charming and funny too, with a little of the cheekie-chappie about him. His voice is vividly projected but a little high tension to be ideally fluent in the passagework, yet he was nicely fluid and not a little stylish.

Choloe Treharne (one of the Christine Collins Young Artists) sang Rosina for this one night only and gave a poised and confident performanc. Treharne has a richly upholstered mezzo-soprano voice with a good lower register and nice even tone throughout the range. She knew how to use it so that her first aria, Una voce poco fa was a characterful delight (I particularly like the lip-smacking 'ma' at the start of the da capo). Perhaps her stage demeanour was a little to solidly steady, though this might have been intentional, but she and Darmanin struck up a nicely sparky relationship.

Jonathan Veira was a in strong form as Doctor Bartolo, surrounded by the chaos of papers and medical implements he seemed less the old buffer than usual. But he was no less comic, had lovely well rounded tone in his arias and a nice line in patter.

Nicholas Crawley (standing in for William Robert Allenby) was a characterful Doctor Bartolo and gave full value to his Calumnia aria.

The remaining characters were all played at this performance by Christine Collins Young Artists. Rosanne Havel gave a nicely pert account of Berta's aria and delightfully put upon with a fabulous sniff. Tom Asher made a bumbling Fiorello, with Rene Bloice-Sanders as Ambrogio and Ashley Mercer as an Officer.

Oliver Platt's production was a highly complex one with much detailed movement and the two different casts meshed admirably to create a lively and entertaining evening in the theatre. Platt might be advised to consider that less can sometimes be more, but faced with such a welter of delight on stage it feels churlish to complain. I do hope we get to see Nicholas Lester again soon.

Opera Holland Park's James Clutton and Sarah Crabtree with the Christine Collins Young Artists
Opera Holland Park's James Clutton and Sarah Crabtree with the Christine Collins Young Artists
After the performance Opera Holland Park's James Clutton made a short speech paying tribute to Christine Collins who provided both financial and moral support for the Christine Collins Young Artists Scheme. The idea behind the scheme is to give young artists challenging opportunities, rather than simply using them in small roles. This is the third year of the scheme and we are starting to see the benefit of the scheme, with young artists reappearing at later seasons. Both Oliver Platt and Matthew Waldren are alumni, and four more alumni are performing in the cast of Opera Holland Park's Adriana Lecouvreur this season. The 10 July performance of The Turn of the Screw will have all but  one cast member played by Christine Collins Young Artists.
[Update: In the original article I credited Don Basilio to William Robert Allenby when he was in fact ill; this has now been corrected[

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