Annabel Arden’s frenetic production of Rossini’s popular comedy Il Barbiere di Siviglia received a mixed reception at its debut in 2016. Happily revival director Sinead O’Neill has succeeded in calming down the staging while preserving its joyful energy.
Rafael Payare opened the evening with a brisk, confident overture from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and apart from a few lapses in ensemble with the singers (outrunning even the masterly Rossinian Alessandro Corbelli in one of the patter songs), his driving speeds kept the score bubbling throughout the evening.
The lovers are suitably young and beautiful – Levy Sagkapane as Count Almaviva radiates cheeky charm through his light, high-lying tenor, and Hera Hyesang Park’s brilliant Rosina switches from petulant K-Pop teenager to arch manipulator in an instant.
As Figaro, Andrey Shilikhovsky burst on to the stage chest first. A natural showman with a big warm baritone, he commanded every scene he appeared in. During madcap set-pieces that resembled a production of Noises Off, the well-drilled cast, including a vigorous chorus, crawled over furniture and shinned up and down ladders. Visual surprises abounded, including smoke billowing from the cassock of Basilio during his Calumny aria – a louche, funny delivery from promising young bass Adam Palka.
The sets are stylish and eye-poppingly colourful. Arden talks about Spanish influences but the blue-and-white tile effect of the backdrop gives no context or period, and the costumes are a riot of influences from Balenciaga to commedia dell’arte. Three music-hall actors race in and out of the action, often carrying pianos to add to the mayhem. Such devices simply aren’t needed when the music and the performances are this intoxicating.