Gioachino Rossini: The Barber of Seville, sung sozz ev’ry sof’ bugga gets it!

 

BRATFORD OPPRA FESTIVAL Sent Georgi’s ‘All, Bratford Thuzdi 23 Nuvemba 2023 

It wer’ mi wust fears realised t’uther deh in t’office when t’editter colls us in forra reet torkin’ tuh … 

“Now sithee ‘eer, Tommus, lad,” sez t’owd lass, “a very much dowt  tha rilly noz  yer ‘arp from yer oboe wen it cums t’ this classical music millaarky … ” 

“Blummin’ ‘eck, av bin rumbled ‘ere, gudden proppa,” a thort. 

“Ennywez,” shi continys, “a doo tekk on board wat tha minns wen tha sez ya like t’tunes in t’oppras I sen’ yi tuh, but ya doe’ant ollas no wat thems singin’ abart, wi’it all bin in sum forrin lanwigge al’time.” 

” ‘Ay up, thez gunna replez mi wi’ that ay eye,” a wer thinkin’ binnow, like … but no … 

“A meh jus’  ‘av sum good news for thi, Tom miboy … a las’ chance t’riddim thassen … Thez a new oppra season opp’nin’ in Bratford an’ thez dooin’ t’Barber of Seville, but dun ba sum clivverclogs from Reddio 3 soz ollanus c’n unnerstan’ it.  Na, fremm thissen, I wannya dun there, lissnin’ in and lerrinus no wottya finned.  Think on … onnly one ice-cream, mind … am not meddamunny.”  

Well, it wer champion a mus’ seh … 

Arshak-Kuzikyan-Milana-Sarukhanyan-Oscar-Castellino-Samuel-Kibble-Felicity-Buckland

Ian McMillan ‘as cum up wi’ a libretto tharenny bairn c’n unnerstan’.  T’marginally-musical queeit of t’ recitatives wer best placed fort’ dialectal ‘earing.  Long vowels in t’florid passigess and t’ quick-fire of t’ patta numbas medd catchin’ all ot’enunciation in summot’ arias difficult, pettickly forrus in t’back ros.  Surtitle scrinns woulda sorted it, fossure.  However, we hudd t’vast majority of Mr. McMillan’s wit – a nivver thott ad wreet that to describe “daft twat”, “deep shit” an’ “arse-faced gormless dipstick” -‘n’ what weeherd we very much liked. 

Musically, the night was a straightforward, unqualified triumph.  Milana Sarukhanyan’s Bertha, perhaps a minor role, nevertheless sang radiantly in her one solo aria, an Act II pithy commentary on old men marrying young women, in which she combined the gravity of her rebuke with a stylish, filigree delivery. 

The Dr. Bartolo of Arshak Kuzikyan and Basilio of Julian Close, the one an intense and notable baritone, the other a dark and formidable buffo basso, both demonstrated admirably the artistic sophistication that underlies playing the villain, gratifyingly without a hint of musical ugliness from either. 

Samuel Kibble‘s Count Almaviva radiated the unflinching innocence of one having fallen hopelessly and wholeheartedly in love.  The down-to-earth Yorkshire accent made the characterisation all the more sincere.  As he ardently explained to his beloved, reconciled after an inevitable misunderstanding, “Love were mi onnly motive”.  From his opening serenading to an empty balcony, we were with him all the way. 

Felicity Buckland‘s Rosina, the object of his unwavering affection, came across as faultlessly secure and vivid, with a laser focus on the honest man she craves.  Rossini’s florid intricacies held no fears, performed with a warmth and dexterity that was wholly engaging.  If she could utter the shocking invective she did about the man she despises, one sensed her expressions of adoration for Almaviva must be sincere.  

Oscar-Castellino-as-Figaro-Felicity-Buckland-as-Rosina

Oscar Castellino, born in a car in a street in Mumbai, played Figaro, the Barber of Seville.  He has an obvious knack for comedy – in bodily expression, vocal nuance and instinctive timing.  His portrayal here, a jack-the-lad, unashamedly and flamboyantly  having “a spoon in every curd tart”, makes him the obvious go-to for the Count in his amorous pursuit.  Brilliant. 

Thewerr also a fittin’, tho’ doubtless unfamiliar, actin’ contribution from t’gentlemen oft’ Bratford Festival Chorrus, nozzilly cummin’ in ‘n’ art of t’auditorium lak nobboddy’s bizznizz. 

Ant’Yokksha Symphony Orchestra?  Why, nemm bi’itssen instils confidence.  Thennue arta plegudden proppa, wi’ Ben Crick pessing ev’rything  fort’ cast t’ breathe and nivver missin’ an opportunity ty’exploit Rossini’s femmus crischendies. 

Is this sacrilege, tinkering with an established masterpiece like this?  Only if you measure success by unquestioningly preserving an opera so as to be the same experience as that on its opening night, which in the case of Il Barbiere di Seviglia happened to be one of musical history’s greatest fiascos.  Performance practices evolve.  We have no absolute guarantee today that the written notes are sung any more than a violin is played or a bass drum mallet is held in the manner that Rossini would have recognised.   

Arshak-Kuzikyan-Milana-Sarukhanyan-Oscar-Castellino-Samuel-Kibble-Felicity-Buckland-Julian-Close

As with music, so with words.  Comedy has a short half-life, be it be penned by Bernard Manning or William Shakespeare.   If comic opera is to continue as anything more than tuneful visual slapstick, the libretto must make us laugh.  And this one did.   

But why only the one performance? 

Sung and played with passion. 

Adapted into Yorkshire dialect by Ian McMillan.

Photography by  Karol Wyszynski. Main image: Arshak-Kuzikyan-Dr-Bartolo-Oscar-Castellino-Figaro-Barber-of-Seville.