The Barber of Seville – English National Opera.

Why has Jonathan Miller’s 25 year old production of Rossini’s masterpiece survived so well?

Billed as a cross between commedia dell arte and Whitehall farce, it surely lives up to this description.  But if the Whitehall farce element resists the test of time how is it that the commedia dell’arte element still hits audiences in the funny bone?

The central gag is about Doctor Bartolo, an elderly guardian in love with his ward, Rosina.  The old man in love running after the vulnerable young girl is certainly a narrative that never dates. Silvio Berlusconi’s antics with nymphs certainly makes us roar.  And here, our own ageing Westminster lotharios attempts to bed young women is also hitting our headlines.

But beyond the popular joke, Miller emphasises the absurdity of the libidinous ageing male and his sexual fantasies by pushing the slapstick element with great finesse.  Dr Bartolo is a form of Pantolone archetype.  Harlequino is the barber Figaro.  The triangle of desired maiden, unscrupulous guardian and trickster barber is set up to make sure the maiden is united with her true love.

It is a simple formula and here it works because of the fresh and wild vision that Miller gives.

Amanda and Anthony Holden’s adaptation is outrageously playful and helps to infuse the 1816 opera with racy libretto.

Lucy Crowe makes her debut as a naughty Rosina, Benedict Nelson is a velvet-voiced barber and Andrew Shore’s fall-guy Doctor Bartolo is wonderfully self-mocking. This production should be prescribed to cure the depressed.  It is the best cure.

Julia Pascal © 2013/