The Barber of Seville at ENO


When the curtain rose on Jonathan Miller’s Barber at the Coliseum this week, the lantern-lit streets of old Seville and the troupe of Commedia del’Arte musicians looked rather familiar. That is, of course, no surprise because this is a grand-daddy of ENO productions and has been around for, literally, decades and, if not quite looking as fresh as a daisy, it is looking decidedly good for its age. This is partly due to the excellent sets and costumes (by Tanya McCallin) which place it firmly in period and the supremely witty translation by Amanda and Anthony Holden but, then again, mostly because Rossini wrote a gem of a comic opera.

Based on the first of Beaumarchais’ trilogy of plays (Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro follows it chronologically), it is a tale full of wily characters, all prepared to stop at nothing to fulfil their aims. There’s old Doctor Bartolo, a guardian who imprisons his ward, Rosina, and attempts to marry her. Meanwhile, Rosina herself has plans to escape with Lindoro, her penniless serenader. Lindoro is, in fact, Count Almaviva and his is a disguise to ensure Rosina loves him for reasons other than his wealth and title. And, the greatest deceiver of all, Figaro, the barber-fixer who will do anything for a purse of gold.

What ensues is a perfectly timed comedy of secret letters and dropped handkerchiefs, ladders and balconies, and ever more ridiculous disguises including drunken soldiers and nasally challenged music teachers. It’s quite marvellous. Rossini’s music sparkles and fizzes and the comedy is clearly relished by everyone on stage. As Rosina, Irish soprano Anna Devin, is in superb voice even in the highest registers and most complex coloraturas (she’s archly comic, too). As Almaviva, Innocent Masuku’s light tenor exudes enthusiasm and baritone Charles Rice cuts quite the figure as Figaro, with a vocal verve that puts him ahead of the game even in the fastest patter songs.

As Bartolo, Simon Bailey is a rubicund, strangely lovable, villain and the comic butt of all the visual jokes, while as his fellow-conspirator, Basilio, Alastair Miles, delights with his absurdly oversized hat and a fine rendition of the Slander song. And what a joy to see Lesley Garrett – after some 25 years ago when she played Rosina – as Berta, in her hands a cameo role no more. The ENO Orchestra played with enthusiasm (perhaps just a little too much in the first half to the detriment of the singers) under the baton of Roderick Cox. A triumph.

The Barber of Seville continues at the London Coliseum with further performances on 14, 22, 27, 29 February. For more information, and for tickets, please visit

Photos by Clive Barda