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The Barber of Seville review at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘clever and playful’

Catherine Trottmann in The Barber of Seville at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Vincent Pontet Catherine Trottmann in The Barber of Seville at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Vincent Pontet
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The directions Laurent Pelly takes familiar works in, and the designs he gives them, are always pretty revelatory. That’s true of his Barber of Seville, too – to an extent. Pelly picks up on the show’s preoccupation with music, and turns that into the overarching concept.

It’s such a good idea, but not always executed in a way that makes the production better. His set (he designs as well as directs) looks just stunning – huge scrolls of manuscript paper curled like tidal waves, or the crests at the top of Sydney Opera House. But they suck up all the noise, and some very fine singing gets lost in the high roof of the Festival Theatre.

Not only is Michele Angelini’s voice technically astonishing, with breath control that can induce its own sharp intakes of breath from the audience, but also his Almaviva is spritely and cheerful, and a warm central character.

Guillaume Andrieux gives a nice take on Figaro, a reluctant and irritable fixer for whom everything is a bit of a chore. And in the aria Una Voce Poco Fa, the line “I am docile, sweet and loving” sounds like complete rubbish coming from Catherine Trottmann’s stroppy, forthright Rosina.

While these voices are technically capable, they suffer from a lack of power. That’s not helped by the overamplified orchestra. Conducting his period ensemble Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Jeremie Rhorer turns the opera into a nippy little thing, each aria bombing along at speed, even if the evening as a whole is a bit of a drag.

The second act is tighter and funnier, settling into its playful tone, allowing Peter Kalman’s Bartolo to shine. He’s particularly good at getting out the tongue-twisting libretto, but also provides the funniest moments as a slapstick fallguy.

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Clever and playful take on Rossini’s warhorse with fine performances swallowed by the design