After the long 18-month pause due to the pandemic, the Welsh National Opera comes back with a Barber of Seville that is plagued by odd production choices but ultimately rescued by some strong performances. The WNO rehashes Giles Havergal’s 35-year-old production that has all the action confined into a small compact set to give the impression of a travelling theatre company. The elements of meta-theatre, actors congratulating each other and the ‘special effects’ of wind and thunder performed on stage, are a little too trite. The faded colours and claustrophobic nature of the two-floor set do a disservice to the brilliance and energy of Rossini’s masterpiece. The confined space also impedes the movement of the performers significantly.
Sung in English, the Barber loses its spirit and kick. Nicholas Lester, as Figaro, was disappointing and uncomfortable with a truly awkward English translation by Robert David Macdonald. Nico Darmanin’s Almaviva was also unimpressive. This struggling Barber was rescued by Heather Lowe’s Rosina and Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo, both giving excellent and funny performances. Heather Lowe’s coloratura mezzo soprano is agile and strong. She delivers with confidence a rounded performance. Keel Watson also gave a strong performance as Don Basilio.
The irrepressible fun and joy of Rossini’s Barber is here constrained. Some strong performances breathe life into the WNO’s Barber and give the audience a pleasant but unsatisfying welcome back to theatre.