Review - The Barber of Seville- Opera Hong Kong


By Peter Gordon.






Gioacchino Rossini whipped off “The Barber of Seville” (“Il Barbiere di Siviglia”) in a couple of weeks. When asked about this, his contemporary Gaetano Donizetti quipped something about Rossini being lazy. This buoyant opera, even frothier than the play by French playwright de Beaumarchais on which it is based, tells the story of Count Almaviva who, disguised as the impecunious student Lindoro, woos the fair Rosina, herself kept under lock and key by her guardian Doctor Bartolo who wants her — and her inheritance — for himself. Figaro, the town barber and fixer schemes to wrest Rosina from her guardian’s clutches to bring the two young lovers together. These plans — “Barbiere” being the most buffa of opera buffa — are increasingly ridiculous. Figaro tells Almaviva to come disguised first as a drunken soldier; he later returns as a substitute music teacher. Bartolo’s schemes are rather more sensible, but all come to nought. It all ends happily. This Opera Hong Kong production — performed 5-7 May — is from the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, and was even frothier than most.



Updated to the 1930s with the “Hollywood” sign as a backdrop, the direction, complete with dance routines in various period costumes, made more than a nod to classic musicals — strains from “Dancing in the Rain” even made a cameo. This version eschewed the latent social commentary in work — the original play was a satire as well as a comedy — for silliness and fun: well, why not? And Barbiere’s plot must be taken with a large grain of salt as it is.



Young American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella was making her Asian debut as Rosina: and a delightful outing it was. Lauricella’s voice is clear in the high notes while her lower register is deep and resonant. Entirely in keeping with the production, she vamped the character up; she is a talented actress as well as a polished vocal artist. Italian tenor Edoardo Milletti took the better part of the first act to find his voice as Almaviva, but when he did, it was warm and lyrical. Figaro was another young American, Stephen LaBrie; the veteran of the cast was Kevin Glavin as Dr Bartolo who appealingly hammed up the role. The surprise of the evening might have been mezzo-soprano Bobbie Zhang as Berta, normally something of a cameo. A domestic servant of a certain âge in most productions, here she was Bartolo’s efficient, bespectacled personal secretary, bustling youthfully about.



Zhang took Berta’s one aria, usually a semi-comic lament about missed opportunities for love (and as often as not accompanied by a lot of sneezing) and turned it into an energy-laden striptease featuring large red ostrich-feather fans, which — as one is sure the director knew it would — brought down the house.

Applying a classic Broadway/Hollywood musical vibe to a 200-year old opera might seem to be pushing the envelope a bit, but it in fact hinted at where musicals may have originated: back with Rossini in the early nineteenth-century.


This production has now closed. 

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