As the 2016 Glyndebourne series begins with the usual delights – picnics, an audience dressed in full black tie regalia and, the evening we visited, a torrential downpour at around 7pm, sending the fashionably dressed scurrying for shelter – it’s something of a relief that, after a 2015 season that was, at times, less that audience-friendly, there is a commitment to being entertaining and accessible. The ever-popular Marriage Of Figaro awaits later, but for the time being, we begin with Rossini’s own version of the same material, Il barbiere di Siviglia or The Barber Of Seville. And, while it’s not going to go down in the annals of history for being the most experimental or groundbreaking production, it’s enormous fun, sung to perfection by the cast and conducted with witty aplomb by the great Enrique Mazzola (replacing the indisposed Robin Ticciati, who had to withdraw with a slipped disc), who even finds himself playing a role in the action occasionally.
It’s something of a surprise to find that the opera hasn’t been staged at Glyndebourne since 1982, so hopes were high that the director Annabel Arden – a co-founder of Complicite – could come up with something similarly exciting and innovative to stimulate an old warhorse of sorts. There’s some nice interaction between the orchestra and the cast, and we are introduced to Björn Bürger’s excellent, dynamic Figaro when he runs through the musicians before treating us to a memorably vivacious ‘Largo al factotum’, run through at considerable speed and with a good deal of charm. But the production doesn’t have the mind-blowing complexity of Complicite at their most advanced, and that’s probably just as well. The audience, especially after they have been rained on, are not looking for a challenging or difficult version of one of the few genuinely comic operas in the repertoire, and so it comes almost as a relief that no real risks are taken.
This doesn’t mean that this is without innovation. Danielle de Niese, as the renegade Rossina, sings beautifully and vivaciously, and is matched by Taylor Stanton as her suitor Count Almaviva, disguised (as is the norm for comic opera) as the penniless Lindoro; Stanton brings a great deal to a potentially thin role, particularly when attired in clerical garb in the second act. He’s well matched by the excellent Christophoros Stamboglis as the smoothly venal Don Basilio, willing to turn a blind eye to anything as long as payment is involved, and the hilarious Alessandro Corbelli as Rossina’s guardian and would-be husband. Corbelli, in fact, bears something of a resemblance to the nearby town of Lewes’ former MP Norman Baker…surely a coincidence?! Connections with politicians aside, this is a gloriously entertaining evening, and it’s well worth begging, borrowing or stealing any opportunity you can to get one of the few remaining tickets. It’s well worth it.
Il barbiere di Siviglia on selected dates until 17th July as part of the Glyndebourne 2016 season. Production images by Bill Cooper. Limited ticket availability, for more information visit the website.