The Barber of …. er… Salisbury?
Next week, Hertford Theatre is staging its first live opera — Rossini’s Barber of Seville. No, no, don’t stop reading… I know opera sometimes isn’t for everyone — but this one really, really is. It’s up close, it’s personal, it’s in English and (get this) it’s properly funny. And it’s a perfect way in if you’ve thought opera wasn’t for you.
Opera Up Close is an Olivier-awards winning company that works its socks off to make opera unintimidating and affordable — and enjoyable. None of this great big diva in a helmet with horns bellowing in German miles away on a massive stage. Nope. It’s engaging, up close (hence the name…), sung in English and accessible. And funny.
I had a chat with Dominic Haddock, the company’s executive producer, recently. Barber of Seville was his first production with Opera Up Close, back in 2010, and he’s delighted that it’s being revived again right now with the same cast.
This new version, with libretto in English by Robin Norton-Hale, tells Rossini’s story of the obsequious Dr Bartleby — who is after his ward, Rosina — who rather fancies a handsome stranger — who is actually a womanising Count in disguise — who are all stage-managed by Figaro (sing with me, now!) the barber who knows everything about everyone’s love life (as hairdressers do). But they’ve moved the action from Rossini’s Spain to Jane Austen’s England — the perfect setting with its feisty heroines, dashing chaps, and snobby relatives. Think Barber of Salisbury, rather than Seville.
Singing in English clearly makes the whole thing much easier for English audiences — and it helps with the humour, too. Instead of reading the jokes on the surtitles — and laughing, or not, at the wrong moment — you’re right there with the action and the comedy. This lets the actors — Dominic was saying they see this as much as theatre as opera — really convey the clever comedy and the word play, the timing, all that sort of thing.
So, if you think opera’s not your thing, this is definitely a brilliant way to dip your toe in the pool. Check out their five reasons why…
If you’re a BBC costume drama fan, you’ll love this! We’ve transported our characters to Jane Austen’s England. Fantastic characters, costume and storyline (think Pride and Prejudice and Faulty Towers)!
It’s REALLY funny. Audiences across the UK have been crying with laughter at this production since 2010, The Stage called it ‘Hilarious’ and even better, you’ll actually get the jokes because it’s sung in English!
If you think that opera’s boring and that nothing happens until a horned helmeted woman dies at the end – YOU’RE WRONG! This production has a cleverly staged managed love affair between a philandering count and a feisty young heroine, under watchful eye of the heroine’s admiring (and creepy!) guardian, leading to disguises, punch ups and kidnaps!
Our performance will definitely go smoother than the premiere in 1816, when calamities included a cat wandering across the stage, a singer tripping on a loose floor board and the audience meowing so loudly you could barely hear anything.
Interested? I’ll be there and can’t wait! Need more convincing? Head over to YouTube for a bit of a sneaky preview…
See you there!