Photos - David Wyatt
The last place I expected to hear a joke about the government's insulation scheme was in a performance of The Barber of Seville. But that was only one of many pleasant surprises in Melbourne Opera's latest production of Rossini's enduring classic.
I have a confession to make - this is the first opera I've been to. I had little idea what to expect and my only claim to familiarity with this particular opera is that I'd seen Bugs Bunny do it.
My first surprise was how accessible it was. I had assumed we were furnished with a synopsis before the show so that people struggling with an incomprehensible stream of Italian could make some sense of what was going on. My expectations however were confounded immediately upon hearing the opening bars - in English.
It was also incredibly funny. Generally regarded as one of the very best of the opera buffe (comedic operas), the story of The Barber of Seville is a farcical comedy of errors and mistaken identities that is fairly lightweight (aren't they all?) but nonetheless entertaining and engaging.
The humour is in the performances. Melbourne Opera has made much of the fact they managed to secure international mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell for a starring role and indeed she is the life and soul of the production. Graceful, playful and decidedly devious, she inhabits the character of Rosina and imbues her with a breathtakingly beautiful voice. As Rosina demonstrates - when a woman makes her mind up, nothing can deter her, nothing else can interfere.
Alongside Russell, the other scene-stealer is Phillip Calcagno, who oozes charm, scandal and self-made sophistication as the eponymous barber, Figaro. Indeed, all the cast are talented and clearly having fun with their characters, so one feels slightly sorry for Roy Best as chief protagonist Count Almaviva. He suffers a little from Zeppo Marx syndrome - the rather bland and uninteresting straight man who carries the narrative while being upstaged by his more colourful co-stars.
While the form of the nearly two-hundred-year-old opera is faithfully reproduced, there has been a liberal sprinkling of modern touches, including some unexpectedly topical references. Even Tiger Woods and Lara Bingle get a mention. But these asides do not detract from the elegance of this high comedy - they merely add a dash of extra spice here and there.
The whole thing is frankly ridiculous but hugely enjoyable, like musical theatre with the acting turned up to eleven. Set to Rossini's rich, bright and bounding score, it's also a chance to partake of one of life's great joys - an orchestra in full flight. While I clearly have a lot to learn about opera, The Barber of Seville has opened my eyes and my ears to a new world.
If you've never tried opera, Melbourne Opera's production of The Barber of Seville is a great place to start. Discover it for yourself - you may be surprised.
Melbourne Opera presents Rossini’s
THE BARBER OF SEVILLE
Venue: Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street, City
Dates: 10th, 13th, 18th & 20th March at 7.30pm & 14th & 21st March at 3pm
Bookings: (03) 9650 1500 | Ticketmaster www.ticketmaster.com.au
Venue: Warrnambool Entertainment Centre
Date: Saturday 27 March
Bookings: 03 555 94 999 | www.entertainmentcentre.com.au
Venue: Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre
Date: Saturday 17 April
Bookings: 03 5722 8105 | www.wangarattapac.com.au
Venue: Benalla Performing Arts & Convention Centre
Date: Saturday 22 May
Bookings: 03 5760 4529 | www.bpacc.com.au
Venue: Canberra Theatre Centre
Date: Saturday 29 May
Bookings: 02 6275 2700 | www.canberratheatre.org.au