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1991, Scottish Opera tour, Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville, Scottish Opera Tour 1991

Previous performance 1988, Hamburg, Barbiere di Siviglia (Fiorello) >>>
Next performance 1992, Welsh National Opera on tour, barbiere de Siviglia >>>

Composer: Gioachino Rossini
Librettist: Sterbini, after Beaumarchais’ comedy
Translation: Anthony and Amanda Holden
Venue and Dates: Scottish Opera Tour 1991
26 April 1991, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
28 June 1991, Playhouse, Edinburgh
Conductor: Robert Dean
Director of revival: Nick Broadhurst
Original Director (1985): Robert David MacDonald
Designer: Sue Blane
Performers:
Figaro : Simon Keenlyside
Almaviva : John Daniecki
Rosina : Kathryn Cowdrick
Bartolo : Eric Roberts
Basilio : Andrew Slater
Berta : Elaine Mackillop
Chorus and Orchestra of the Scottish Opera
Notes: Please do email us on webmaster@simonkeenlyside.info
if you know any other dates and venues for this 1991 tour

Soundbites

Opera Magazine, July 1991. The Barber of Seville. Scottish Opera at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, April 26

The courtyard of Bartolo’s house with the back view of a nude statue and a glimpse of the Streets on either side – Sue Blane’s basic stage set for the Barber – has become a familiar Scottish Opera image. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that the present revival of Robert David MacDonald’s production, dating from 1985, will be the last.

Coming from the legitimate stage, MacDonald saw the opera as a piece of slapstick. The score has many other things, of course, including fresh young sentiment and brilliant florid singing, but these get swept away amid the sight gags and wisecrackery, with the help of a smart-guy translation by Anthony and Amanda Holden. ‘You mean it – upfront money?’ asks Figaro, and Rosina is a ‘cunning little vixen’, presumably for the benefit of Scottish Opera regulars.

The revival has been handled by Nick Broadhurst. The only departure from the original seems to be a tendency to fall flat in between the laughs. Any remnants of a true Rossinian lyric spirit have fled. ‘Una voce poco fa’ in its unmemorable translation lacks either purity or brilliance, sung by Kathryn Cowdrick with a pleasantly warm voice but too much comical eagerness, ‘La calunnia’ loses its cumulative force; Andrew Slater is not a true Basilio, moving and singing with a bovine dullness and looking more like a social worker than an abate. A kind of Rossinian sempre mezzo forte, you could say.

John Daniecki has the right sweetness and grace for the part of Almaviva, and an ample range, though his coloratura is sketchy. Simon Keenlyside slotted ideally into this production, a teddy-boy of a Figaro who juggled with oranges – it was the real thing, amazing – during the stretta of ‘Largo al factotum’.

Actually, the true nature of the production was revealed by the extraordinary success of Eric Roberts as Bartolo. Here was the complete comedian, with funny walks, snorts, grimaces and an accident-prone looseness of limb. Elaine Mackillop, one of Scottish Opera’s staff singers, suppressed some of the heavy clowning that previously infested the part of Berta, portrayed here as a fag-smoking charlady.

Robert Dean, a previous Scottish Figaro – he began his career as a singer – conducted this performance as though on autopilot, apparently unable to whip any excitement into the finales. Perhaps it was demora1ising to be at the helm of an operatic Fawlty Towers. This was an opera production in which the music could have been dispensed with, but I believe I said that last time it was revived.

Fine and dandy for the barber

Jo Roe for The Scotsman, 28 June 1991. Playhouse, Edinburgh

This Scottish Opera production is certainly not for the purist. A rich mixture of high art and slapstick, it takes great pleasure in matching pomposity with baseness. Translated into very modern English, the libretto, set against Rossini’s score, confidently deflates its own genre.

Creating comic bathos, love is somewhat unromantically “an itch without a lotion” and the villain of the piece, faultlessly played by Eric Roberts, sings “opera makes me vomit”.

Rossini’s 19th century story involves young love, an evil guardian, an opportunistic barber and a small amount of intrigue. Scottish Opera under the direction of Nick Broadhurst, has zapped it into the 20th century, breathing new life into a well-worn formula.

Eclectic costumes stem mainly from the 50s – the hip barber sports a dandified quiff. Only Rosina’s taffeta, dress is gawkily out of place. A splendid pink set represents Seville, peopled by a colourful gallery of extras.

This production teems with inventive activity. Several extras play silent roles, often acting foils for an array of theatrical jokes. Broadhurst has successfully avoided cheap sensationalism by giving every action a meaningful context.

Bearing out his role as jack-of-all-trades, Figaro, the barber, Juggles four balls while singing the famous Figaro Cadenza.

Only the powerful voice of Kathryn Cowdrick playing Rosina managed to fill the Playhouse Theatre’s lofty proportions, while others were sometimes drowned by the orchestra. However, where voices fell short, the acting was excellent.

With plenty of theatrical diversion and an easy score to follow, Scottish Opera’s The Barber of Seville could almost be described as a high-brow pantomime. Combining comic theatre with a fine musical score, it is easily accessible and highly entertaining.

An extract from Opera, November 1997, where SK is interviewed by Rodney Milnes.

“The first fairly major singing role I did was Barber, and I hid behind the juggling. I got a wonderful review: ‘a teddy-boy who juggled with oranges – it was the real thing, amazing – during the stretta of Largo al factotum’, and I deserved it! But I was so frightened of just standing there and singing. I’d never done that in a blue-ribbon baritone role, so I juggled.”

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