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08 February, 2011

Barber of Seville at Sydney Opera House

The Barber of Seville - Sydney Opera House Fri 4th February 2011

Dear Readers,

This was another exciting and exhilarating opening night at the opera.

Velvet-voiced mezzo-soprano Domenica Matthews rose to the occasion to be as good as any Rosina I have heard. Her customised version of ‘Una voce poco fa’ was perfectly suited to her very considerable vocal range and agility. Her dramatic side also showed great craft skills of comedy and farce.

Henry Choo excelled himself as Count Almaviva, singing a creditable first act aria/chorus and ending with the optional high note (a top C, I think), sustained, strong and exciting, causing an instant ovation. Mr Choo has developed his talents over the years to a very great degree and is a credit to himself and the company.

Newly ‘discovered’ Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro is certainly an impressive young opera singer with a handsome, large and ‘natural’ baritone voice, dramatic flair and presence. He did not outshine the locals but may have raised the standard by his much promised involvement. Like the other characters, Caoduro was given gags aplenty in this hilarious production. It was nice to see the company responding to popular demand and good taste by returning to the brilliant Moshinsky/Yeargan production set in an Edwardian doctor’s surgery/residence. There was full-length leadlight, electric door bell, floral wall paper, illuminated cocktail cabinet, 78 rpm records, upright piano and even a Charleston dance scene.

Warwick Fyfe sang a most credible Bartolo, managing the almost unsingable patter piece berating his ward’s misbehaviour. The company’s regular basso Jud Arthur has done what might be his best role to date as Don Basilio the music master and wayward cleric. His ‘La calunnia’ was a sustained vocal progression accompanied by stage effects, hissing, thunder, lightning, etc which all set off the sinister plan of slander which was described so well by Shakespeare*.

Even with this cast of substantial opera stars possibly the most memorable character was the white-coated surgical dresser Ambroglio played by Christopher Hillier. His black sunken eyes, morbid gait and dead-pan expression made the lady sitting beside me break-up into laughter several times.

Even the relatively small part of Berta played by Teresa La Rocca was marvellous, giving us a drunken maid’s vocal escapade ending on a stratospheric high note!! With all this high-class opera on show it would seem churlish to comment on the absence of ‘Cessa di piu non resistere’ - an optional extra which is hardly ever performed (see my review of Lawrence Brownlee at the Met last March - link to 2010 reviews).

The orchestra under Maestro Antony Walker was supplemented with keyboards in the pit. Beginning with a masterful rendition of the popular overture, the playing was superlative with this opera’s tuneful cadences, often on woodwinds moving from bassoon through the range to piccolos in rapid succession and back again. All in all a highly enjoyable night at the opera. A friend commented that the most attractive feature of the evening was the vivacity on stage, both vocal and dramatic. He felt that with such rich vocalising coming across the footlights encouraged the audience to engage with the characters and plot, in turn adding further to the energy on stage. Not a bad summation to my mind.

There were many dignitaries present. I was told that the King of Tonga was attending. Much loved and esteemed Governor Marie Bashir led the official party. Nearly all of the expensive seats were sold out which is gratifying (there had been gridlock and many arrived late). For those worried about ticket prices there are still some reasonable seats on the sides with restricted views for between $44 and $67. The rear 4 seats in loges Y and B are highly recommended by this opera goer.

Written by Andrew Byrne ..

* On slander or defamation: “Good name in man and woman is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.”

Shakespeare’s Othello, Act 3, Scene 3