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The Barber of Seville review at London Coliseum – ‘a sparkling revival’

Sarah Tynan, Yvonne Howard, Eleazar Rodriguez, Morgan Pearse and Alan Opie Alastair Miles in The Barber of Seville. Photo: Robbie Jac Sarah Tynan, Yvonne Howard, Eleazar Rodriguez, Morgan Pearse and Alan Opie Alastair Miles in The Barber of Seville. Photo: Robbie Jack
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Forced to dispense with unaffordable innovation, English National Opera repeats another of its classic Jonathan Miller productions, last seen only two years ago. The revival director is again Peter Relton, with whom Miller appears on stage to a partial standing ovation on first night.

With Leiser and Caurier’s day-glo production featuring regularly at Covent Garden, this venerable mix of British farce and commedia dell’arte feels as comfortable as an old shoe.

Never one of Miller’s time-shifting high-concept reassessments, it retells the familiar story deftly, with comic detail precisely observed. Only Tanya McCallin’s period costumes and sets have begun to look dowdy, the main problem being not so much the distressed plasterwork as the redundant canopy of old sheets.

As in 2015, Count Almaviva is well acted by small-voiced Mexican tenor Eleazar Rodriguez, while Australian high baritone Morgan Pearse reprises his rather wooden Figaro; he has the decibels but produces some edgy tone. Both improve as the evening progresses.

ENO regular Sarah Tynan scores a personal triumph with her first Rosina. No longer the soubrette, she is almost too commanding and manipulative to make us feel for her character’s plight, the coloratura realised with impressive skill and confidence.

Alan Opie, the show’s first Figaro in 1987, has now graduated to the role of Dr Bartolo and proves adept at his comic business. So too is Alastair Miles’ Basilio. Such luxury casting does highlight the relative ordinariness of the male leads.

Although the orchestra is reduced in size, the approach of conductor Hilary Griffiths is essentially old-world lyrical, never forcing the pace or drowning the cast. His is an overdue ENO debut. Harpsichord rather than fortepiano accompanies the recitatives, which, alone, are not surtitled.

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Sparkling, 13th revival of Jonathan Miller’s reliable laughter-maker manages to avoid routine thanks to several star performances