ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

06/06/2019 - 15/06/2019

Production Details

This “riotously funny, utterly assured production” (The Australian) of Rossini’s crazy comic opera The Barber of Seville will finally make it to our shores, after receiving rave reviews in Queensland and Seattle. Directed by Lindy Hume and designed by Kiwi powerhouse Tracy Grant Lord, this monumentally mad opera is bursting with energy, sass and colour.

The vibrant on-stage visuals set the scene for an energetic score and madcap tale, performed by a thrilling internationally renowned ensemble with stunning voices and undeniable acting chops.

Also featuring the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus and our top regional orchestras in each city, under the baton of New Zealand Opera Director of Music, Wyn Davies. The Barber of Seville is this year’s best opportunity to experience a full noise opera production.

“The action never stops” Seattle Times

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
June 6, 13 & 15 at 7.30pm
June 9 at 2.30pm
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Opera House
June 29 & July 4 at 7.30pm
July 2 at 6.30pm
July 6 at 5pm
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Isaac Theatre Royal
August 1, 3 & 7 at 7.30pm
August 5 at 6.30pm
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The performance lasts approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, including a 20 minute interval. 

Count Almaviva John Tessier
Rosina Sandra Piques Eddy
Figaro Morgan Pearse
Dr Bartolo Andrew Collis
Don Basilio Ashraf Sewailam
Berta Morag Atchison
Fiorello/Officer James Harrison (Akl)
Fiorello/Officer Joel Amosa (Wgtn/Chc)
Ambrogio Jesse Wikiriwhi

Conductor Wyn Davies
Director Lindy Hume
Set and Costume Designer Tracy Grant Lord
Lighting Designer Matthew Marshall
Assistant Director Jacqueline Coats

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Orchestra Wellington
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra
Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus 

Theatre , Opera ,

2 hrs 45 mins incl. interval

A frittata of delight, plated with playful panache

Review by Michael Hooper 07th Jun 2019

A frenetic frittata of folk heroes whips up a fantasy that is pure escapist entertainment in this show sharing the best bits of director Lindy Hume’s 2015 production of La cenerentola (Cinderella) for the same company.  So don’t look for emotional depth or a credible plot, instead expect to enjoy more of the mix proven popular, with mischievousness substituting for magic.

From Betty Crocker to Rocky Horror, with a dash of Meatloaf and McInroe, a splash of Split Enz and a quiff of Elvis, Tracy Grant Lord’s costumes and set define a Mad Hatter world, lit with care by Matthew Marshall.  Although the show taps centuries of styles from Harlequin to Hair Spray (the musical) it does sit within a thematic framework that is visually suggested by the proscenium collage of doors and window frames that becomes something of a light show to occupy the overture. Hume has chosen the traditional approach, leaving us with around seven minutes of empty stage, save for the set, to enjoy the APO under Wyn Davies brightly delivering the jaunty generic Rossini overture.

An advent calendar of colourful windows then begins to pop in walls that will frame much of the comedy and provide boxes for chorus commentary on the multi-purpose fixed space beneath – sometimes the neighbourhood square, other times the interior of Dr Bartolo’s house.

If you don’t know the story that librettist Cesare Sterbini packaged from the original Beaumarchais play, it’s simple enough. Figaro, a barber/fixer and factotum (arranger of all things) in eighteenth century Spain, undertakes to help nobleman Count Almaviva (in the guise of a student, Lindoro) to secure the hand of Rosina, the ward of Dr Bartolo who plans to marry her himself.  Bartolo is assisted by music teacher Don Basilio.  Further disguises and plots provide amusement and deception until the two young lovers are united, with a happy ending for everyone except Dr Bartolo.  It is usual Commedia dell’Arte fodder, but the catchy melodies of showbiz genius Rossini, a nimble orchestra, a sparkling cast, and NZ Opera’s dab hand at Kiwi-crafty surtitles, all gather to deliver a storm-force, fabulous frippery of fun.

As dawn breaks, Fiorello (James Harrison) softly coaxes a troop of street musicians into the square for Almaviva’s regular but ignored serenade to Rosina who is shuttered into the upper floor of Bartolo’s house. Suddenly, sweat-banded and flash track-suited hairdresser Figaro (Morgan Pearse) crashes his way to the stage through the auditorium to deliver the famous ‘Figaro’ aria (Make way for the factotum of the town / Largo al factotum della citta) with warmth and flare. His voice is light and easy, a less Jagger-esque Figaro than some, but his moves and delivery throughout still give us a fab and fey Figaro. He is the perfect one to abet the romantic efforts of his former master (John Tessier as the disguised Count Almaviva) and, in the words of his surtitle, “the cheese has landed on the macaroni”.

Feet on a café table, they plot, their two voices balanced as beautifully as pasta and melting parmigiana. John Tessier, whose self-effacing comedy may be recalled from his Prince in La cenerentola, remains an eager, open-voiced delight. Every floated note, High C or otherwise, presents a cushioned platform onto which he softly and deftly parachutes.

We soon meet Rosina, a coquettish and attractive young woman painted in bright colours by lively American mezzo Sandra Piques Eddy. Her lower notes have an oaty purr that underscores her character, while her upper reaches also hold some savoury textures. She is another joy to behold and indeed when these three later sing together to make their escape, all with dextrous trilling ‘runs’, their voices meld into one plaited golden cord. The same sentiment applies to the building up of a nicely choreographed sextet towards the end of the opera.

Andrew Collis is the foolish old Dr Bartolo, bringing a long and impressive pedigree to the role which requires some quick patter-song 16th notes. He has a well-developed comic sense, and a couple of brief vocal fades don’t alter the obvious enjoyment of his enunciated flights and absurd character.

The other principal singing role of Don Basilio, Rosina’s music tutor, is taken by the liquorice-voiced Ashraf Sewailam. With a bald pate and trailing stringy locks, he appears like some kind of flotsam Mandarin and, in red tights, red gloves (are they latex?) and cassock, his appearance is other-worldly. Another stage master, he milks his part for its best laughs.

That said, no-one really overdoes the comedy, an inherent risk in this farcical, weird and wonderful setting.  Long-standing (14 years) NZ Opera Director of Music Wyn Davies always puts the music foremost and this show is no exception, as he guides the APO, almost with anticipation, to cushion or adjust their output to account for variations in stage performance.

Another inherent comic danger is upstaging, which becomes obvious only once when an Italian electrical switchboard erupts in sparks. The two servants (Jesse Wikiriwhi and Morag Atchison), who are tutting about with cleaning implements, embellish rather than scene-steal and their two flights of fancy are staged with excellent effect.  The first involves the descent of a large chandelier (where would opera be without them?) and a sequel was probably anticipated by the audience.  In dealing with this antic, Jesse Wikiriwhi has the acrobatics of an experienced dance professional to ‘fall’ back upon. The other flight is the short aria from Berta, the maid – a real showstopper by Morag Atchison that draws instant, hearty applause.

The staging is not cliché-free, with slow motion, strobes and streamers, but this is almost consistent with the approach taken by the composer, whose skill in using pre-loved or popular ingredients is evident. Even his overture is recycled. However, the balance for this production falls firmly in favour of good invention and LOL fun – a troubadour suddenly appearing from the closet; an OTT channelling of Elton John by John Tessier; a flying feline tribute to an incident on the opera’s original opening night; the pithy surtitles. Well-worn or new, they all come together most enjoyably.

I love frittata because it is quick to make and uses all the good things that are in stock, yet somehow they are egged on and spiced to become a new dish. In The Barber of Seville, 24-year-old foodie and skilled recipe creator of the sure-to-rise opera, Gioachino Rossini, serves us such a delight, plated with playful panache by the creatives and cast of New Zealand Opera.


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