The Barber of Seville review – Rossini’s opera gets a British Victoriana makeover

The Barber of Seville review – Rossini’s opera gets a British Victoriana makeover

Opera Holland Park, London
Cecilia Stinton injects a whiff of EM Forster’s A Room With a View to the comic masterpiece’s well-worn plot

Dr Bartolo, the old man who has to be outwitted before the young couple get it together in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, is a lot of bad things: irascible, selfish, reactionary. In her new staging at Holland Park, Cecilia Stinton adds something even worse: he’s British. A portrait of Queen Victoria, a bowler-hatted servant and a bit of messing around with the translated surtitles as the characters sing their expository chat brings us the backstory that he’s an archaeologist travelling with his ward Rosina, who has caught Count Almaviva’s eye on the way down to Seville. In the Andalusian heat, evoked by Neil Irish’s postcard-Spain meets Victoriana designs and Robert Price’s warm lighting, Bartolo gets sunburn, but Rosina, bribing her chaperone to take her out in the city streets, is ripe for a bit of Lucy Honeychurch-ish awakening.

Rossini meets EM Forster? It’s probably not quite what the composer had in mind – he wrote clashes of nationality into other operas, not this one – but the idea sits happily enough on top of the well-worn plot. As in her previous OHP productions – Rigoletto last year, Carmen the year before – Stinton throws a lot at the stage, perhaps too much. But once again the details are often revealing in themselves, even if there’s little hope of catching them all when they are happening far apart. The wide back of the Holland Park stage, the catwalk around the front of the orchestra and the aisles of the audience are all part of the bustle, and the orchestra isn’t out of bounds either: Rosina’s fake “music lesson”, nicely done here, sees Elgan Llŷr Thomas’s Almaviva eventually evicting Charlotte Corderoy from the conductor’s podium.

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