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Il Barbiere di Siviglia review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘a sparky crowd-pleaser’

Daniela Mack and Javier Camarena in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Royal Opera House, London
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The Barber of Seville, a story of a woman imprisoned and manipulated by older men, might sit uneasily with contemporary audiences but Leiser and Caurier’s oft-seen production, literally boxing in its heroine with eclectic, vaguely 1950s designs and bags of day-glo colour, goes for laughs and gets them too.

The stripy toy-box set is sent lurching into space during the Act I finale and the abundant physical comedy is expertly handled by revival director Thomas Guthrie.

While no revival can hope to trump that of 2009, in which Joyce DiDonato’s wheelchair-using Rosina created a sensation, the debut of Mexican tenor Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva is this year’s hot news. More Luciano Pavarotti than Juan Diego Florez in terms of physique, he is stylish and unstinting in his final display of coloratura pyrotechnics, music that always used to be cut. Buenos Aires-born mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, a 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World finalist, is a feisty, vibrant, distinctly un-mellow Rosina. That the lovers are both new to Covent Garden is something of a tradition for a show that needs fresh voices to soften its cartoonish unreality.

Of the echt Italians, Vito Priante musters impressive beauty of line and tone as Figaro, arriving via the stalls dressed like a toddler. And veteran bass Ferruccio Furlanetto returns to reprise his Don Basilio, a wonderfully sonorous grotesque. The cantankerous Doctor Bartolo is Portuguese, Jose Fardilha in another effective house debut.

Conductor Henrik Nanasi deploys a fortepiano for the recits and can be challengingly fast yet feels no need to purge the string tone of all warmth. Soloists are occasionally swamped but the impression remains of a genuine team effort.

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A mostly youthful, multi-national team keeps this sparky, unsubtle crowd-pleaser ticking over