’Tis the season to be schlocky, so how refreshing to be offered a generous helping of quality Rossini just in time for Christmas. And what better Rossini than The Barber of Seville? This “semi-staged” production in the superlative acoustics of Elisabeth Murdoch Hall glittered as bright as any bauble on a Christmas tree.

Barber of SevilleBrenton Spiteri and chorus in Victorian Opera’s The Barber of Seville. Photo © Nick Hanson

Rossini’s comic masterpiece deserves, or rather, demands excellent singers and Victorian Opera did not disappoint. Cast in the title role, VO regular, Jose Carbó was a witty Figaro, full of the joy of life and only too willing to help young lovers. Melbourne tenor, Brenton Spiteri was an ardent Almaviva whose passion was aided by a well produced upper register. He was well matched with Italian soprano, Chiara Amarù as Rosina, whose agile coloratura also impressed.

While all of the characters contribute to the opera’s madcap comedy, it is the caricatures that get the most laughs. More commonly associated with darker characters such as Alberich and Beckmesser, Warwick Fyfe was a hugely entertaining Dr Bartolo, revealing a penchant for comedy that makes me want to see more of him in this vein. (He would make an excellent Falstaff.) Paolo Pecchioli invested the role of Don Basilio with a camp, money-grubbing malevolence that worked well with Fyfe’s Bartolo.

Barber of SevilleJosé Carbó, Chiara Amarù and Brenton Spiteri in Victorian Opera’s The Barber of Seville. Photo © Nick Hanson

Minor roles were also well cast. Former Herald Sun Aria winner, Kathryn Radcliffe dazzled with Berta’s aria in Act Two, while Stephen Marsh acted well as the not-too-bright manservant, Fiorello. The eight-voice male ensemble worked well, particularly as the ineffectual police (in this production tipping a hat to the Keystone Cops).

Adapting the opera to a concert hall meant placing the orchestra behind the singers. In the main this worked well, although there were moments when Rossini’s rapid-fire patter music exposed some push-and-pull between singers and instruments. Orchestra Victoria played with panache throughout under the seasoned leadership of conductor, Richard Mills. In addition to delivering the continuo Phoebe Briggs enjoyed being an “extra”, interacting hilariously with Figaro.

Barber of SevillePaolo Pecchioli, José Carbó, Kathryn Radcliffe, Stephen Marsh and Chiara Amarù in Victorian Opera’s The Barber of Seville. Photo © Nick Hanson

Given the limited room available to the singers, director Elizabeth Hill-Cooper used a few small risers effectively to suggest various spaces and levels. It was only when the entire company was on stage that movement appeared constricted. At the end of Act One this unfortunately meant the relatively static direction of the cast did not seem to match the emotional hurly-burly of that moment. Kate Glenn-Smith’s traditional costumes did much to evoke historical context and Peter Darby’s simple lighting design worked well.

With strong casting that married vocal excellence to comic timing, this was a delightful Barber in which all involved were united in radiating joy in the music, the drama and the unavoidable foibles of the human condition. What a pity it only ran for two shows!

Subscribe to Limelight