NZ Opera's The Barber of Seville must be the entertainment ticket of the fortnight.
Rossini's comic opera may be 200 years old, but Lindy Hume has sparked and sparkled it up for audiences of today, bent on bedazzlement.
The Australian director always comes up with a new angle on the familiar. This production, set against a patchwork of doors and balconies worthy of a frenetic Feydeau farce and staged with athletic tomfoolery that could rival the dining-room antics of Fawlty Towers, springs to hilarious life.
Rossini achieves wonders clustering together characters to plot subterfuge and concoct confusion. The cast, to the last soldier in the chorus, does this superbly. Tracy Grant Lord's set creates intriguing perspectives in ensembles, while music director Wyn Davies and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra are not past allowing a flash of flamenco into an unsuspecting duet.
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Australian baritone Morgan Pearse is brilliant as the madcap barber, aiding lovers and duping the lecherous. Not afraid to sing from the stalls, he scampers and scurries with gusto, never betraying the musical finesse of Rossini's vocal line.
Sandra Piques Eddy's first and famous aria makes it clear, early on, that she's a force to be reckoned with. Her comedic playing, especially with John Tessier's cleverly characterised Count, is a delight, particularly in a flirting singing lesson. Andrew Collis' Bartolo is a sly and vocally spry old reprobate, alongside Ashraf Sewailam's Don Basilio, all smiles, wiles and well-oiled basso tones.
In a solid cast, dominated by overseas artists, one feels a special pride in Morag Atchison's Berta. Wearing thick glasses and a pinny over serviceable stripes, the Auckland soprano makes the most of her stage time, often in tandem with Jesse Wikiriwhi's fey, mysterious Ambrogio. We first thrill to Atchison's vocal heft when she soars above the first act finale but her own worldly-wise aria is a showstopper.
The Barber of Seville is perfect wintertime solace, right through to the razzle-dazzle of its joyous grand finale.
What: New Zealand Opera - The Barber of Seville
Where: Aotea Centre
Reviewed by: William Dart