This latest production of the Barber is a gloriously fun-filled and richly musical entertainment probably the best Barber Brisbane has seen.
Even before the overture the production is entrancing, with the curtain open to display Leon Krasenstein’s luscious art deco set inspired by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Brian Castles-Onion’s Queensland Orchestra launches us into a well-paced overture with a confident sound including rich depth from the lower strings, while on stage, non-singing extras Imogen Rogers, Paul Geoghegan, Dan Crestani, Clinton Stewart and Michael Parlato do their thing as dotty health spa residents drunk countess, injured matadors, senile general all in best Fawlty Towers style.
Latin-blooded José Carbó impresses with his vigorous performance in the title role, while Russian soprano Elivira Fatykhova as Rosina is simply dazzling. Both handle the intricate highly embellished vocal challenges of Rossini’s music with confident singing, together with top comic acting as a bonus. Carbó clowns about and is rarely still, while Fatykhova’s funny faces (particularly in reaction to the unwanted attentions of Bartolo) are hilarious. Fatykhova thrills the audience with her vocal gymnastics sung classy sung high and sung strong.
Carbó excels from his first appearance, in all of opera’s best-known aria, “Largo al factotum”, drawing thunderous applause. It is one of the sad developments of modern professional opera companies that appreciative audiences are never awarded encores. Still, with so many great performances a show with encores would have gone until dawn.
Excellent also is John Bolton Wood as Rosina’s guardian Dr Bartolo (director of a 1930s Spanish health spa in this John Milson production), whose challenging “A un dottor della mia sorte” patter song is extremely well performed, involving more rapid-pace syllables than anyone would normally utter in a lifetime.
But for me the most outstanding performance in a top night is Andrew Collis as the unkempt and malodorous Don Basilio, the scheming priest and music teacher. His rendition of the La calummnia aria must be one of the best ever heard.
Adrian Dwyer as the love-sick Count Almaviva has a light and pleasing tenor voice (not always displaying perfect intonation) and a fine comedic sense his characterisation of count, disguised lover, drunken soldier and parson are diverse and effective.
Mention must be made of Adele Johnston, who sings a powerful Act 2 aria and plays her matronly role of Berta with distinction, David Hibbard who has a commanding vocal and physical presence as the officer, and Shaun Brown as Dr Bartolo’s servant. (Errol O’Neill and Guy Booth add nicely to the character roles.)
Richard Lewis’s men’s chorus (no women choristers in this show) sing and act well as militia and constabulary, while there is also beautiful and powerful harmonic singing from the principals in their ensemble pieces.
There are many other elements to add to the fun such as Leon Krasenstein’s colorful costumes, and the lighting design of Donn Byrnes together with extraordinary gushing fountain effects during the Act 2 storm scene.
The music is charming mostly Rossini at his best, together with some naughty interpolations touches of Verdi, Mozart, Edith Piaf and even “I did it my way”!