I don’t know whether or not Rafael Payare bakes. But either way, he served up the ultimate lemon meringue pie at Covent Garden last night, in the shape of the overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia: a buttery base of low strings below a tangy filling of woodwind, topped by the airiest, fluffiest meringue of violins. It was light, it was airy, it was enthusiastically accented, it was rhythmically on the nail and it elicited the biggest ovation for an opera overture I can remember – and deservedly so, because it set the scene for an evening of buffa entertainment that never faltered.

Andrzej Filończyk (Figaro) and Aigul Akhmetshina (Rosina)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

As usual when reviving not-so-young productions (Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s dates from 2005, so it’s just reached the age of majority), The Royal Opera packed the cast with top flight singers, including two outstanding youngsters. Andrzej Filończyk captured the audience from the moment he swaggered on stage for Figaro’s celebrated “Largo al factotum”, with an on-stage manner as easy as his smooth-as-silk legato or his vivacious rapid-fire patter. At just 28 years old, he’s an exceptional talent. As Rosina, the even younger Aigul Akhmetshina produced an outstanding piece of singing, with verve and comic timing to go with a honeyed timbre, plenty of power and immaculate technique. What both Akhmetshina and her Almaviva, Lawrence Brownlee, do unbelievably well is the Rossinian decoration: fast runs, either upwards or downwards, in which every note is of exactly equal length, delivered at strength with even or shaped volume. It’s fiendishly difficult to accomplish and these two singers make it sound as if it’s happening without significant effort on their part. The result is nothing short of blissful.

Andrzej Filończyk, Fabio Capitanucci (Bartolo), Aigul Akhmetshina and Lawrence Brownlee (Almaviva)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

We can overuse the phrase “luxury casting”, but not here. Sir Bryn Terfel clearly relished singing “La calunnia”, Don Basilio’s paean to the spreading of vicious rumour and one of the greatest basso buffo arias of all time. Having a voice with quite that much power, with stage presence to match, made Terfel a hilarious presence in Act 2 when being ushered out of the room by Figaro and singing “Dunque vado” in an enormous voice, despite supposedly suffering from fever. Ailish Tynan delivered Berta’s aria di sorbetto “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” with enormous gusto. As Bartolo, Fabio Capitanucci seemed a fraction underpowered in such company, although he gave his fair share of the fun as the comic fall guy.

Sir Bryn Terfel (Don Basilio)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Unusually, Caurier and Leiser were there in person to direct this revival, coaxing exemplary acting from the whole cast. Movements were crisp, timing was immaculate and almost every one of the countless gags – vocal, visual or surtitle timing – landed perfectly, from the chorus of dodgy musicians summoned up by Fiorillo singing “piano, pianissimo” at fff, to Rosina’s sleight of hand substituting the laundry list for her love letter, to Bartolo’s complaints about how boring “modern” opera is, to the running gag of Berta’s sneezes induced by Bartolo’s snuff. The staging is one of those that just works. It’s bright, easy-going and provides an endless stream of small surprises. There’s just the one number that doesn’t come off, the Act 1 closing ensemble “Mi par d'esser con la testa”, where everyone complains that the complex plot is doing their head in, but that’s a difficult number to stage by any standards.

Act 1 finale
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Yes, this Barbiere may be a straightforward revival of a much-seen production. But with exemplary direction, vivacious playing under Payare’s baton and a singing cast of this quality, it’s a winner. Grab the remaining seats while you can.