Der Barbier von Sevilla für Kinder is not a production for operatic purists. As the title hints, it’s an abridged German-language version with dialogue, intended for a young audience. But there’s plenty in Elena Tsavara’s staging for older audiences as well. The whimsical sets and costumes and the bright-eyed young cast give the show a contagious sense of energy that more formal productions targeted at ‘serious’ adults often lack.

Rafael Fingerlos (Figaro) © Salzburger Festspiele | Matthias Baus
Rafael Fingerlos (Figaro)
© Salzburger Festspiele | Matthias Baus

Conrad Moritz Reinhardt’s sets and Elisabeth Vogetseder’s costumes identify and exaggerate the core elements of each character’s predicament. Rosina sits suspended on a couch in a giant bird cage, sipping from a pets’ water bottle and dripping in feathers. Bartolo keeps watch through a telescope from an armchair on a high platform. A slightly scruffy Figaro pops in and out of the scene from his gaudily lit barber shop, while Almaviva finds refuge near his beloved in empty boxes and garbage cans. The university classroom space imposes unfortunate limitations (a static set, poor lighting, and no real orchestra pit), but the design cleverly works around them.

Andrew Haji (Almaviva) and Adriana Ferfecka (Rosina) © Salzburger Festspiele | Franz Neumayr
Andrew Haji (Almaviva) and Adriana Ferfecka (Rosina)
© Salzburger Festspiele | Franz Neumayr
The participants in the Young Singers Project fill the opera’s five roles perfectly. Adriana Ferfecka sings Rosina with a smooth sound at a range of volumes. Her coloratura is clear and energetic, and she flits about in her feathers and pelts Bartolo with oranges with wonderful enthusiasm. As Bartolo, Ivan Thirion deploys a character-filled voice with a pleasant timbre. His absurdly doddering, jealous persona fits the cartoon-like intensity of the production as a whole. Andrew Haji’s Almaviva is similarly over-the-top, with repeated dramatic professions of adoration for Rosina. His romantic serenade in a warm tenor voice opens the show strongly. Basilio is somewhere between a lawyer, a magician, and a wild man, but Gordon Bintner seems equally comfortable whether he is covered in moss or pulling Mozartkugel bombs out of his top hat. His low voice holds a variety of textures, which he juxtaposes to good comedic effect.

Without a doubt, the soul of the show is Rafael Fingerlos as Figaro. He fills the gaps created by the cuts to the opera by serving as our narrator. Conveniently, he can step out of the action (and freeze the other singers) with a snip of his scissors. This buys him time to explain what’s going on and to hatch his plots. He needs lots of help, and the children in the audience are happy to oblige. He cuts their hair, offers them high-fives, asks them where other characters are hiding, and solicits disguise suggestions for Almaviva. He sings his famous aria entirely in the audience, and we’re encouraged to echo his increasingly ridiculous cries of “Figaro!”. Throughout it all, Fingerlos displays charisma, good humour, and boundless energy. His singing is bright and resonant, with clear German diction and well-placed emphases – but that’s the least of his accomplishments in this madcap show!

Duncan Ward © Salzburger Festspiele | Franz Neumayr
Duncan Ward
© Salzburger Festspiele | Franz Neumayr

The ten-person orchestral reduction leaves the instrumentalists very exposed, but they manage brilliantly. The overture is clear and energetic, with particularly impressive solo bits from Frank Stadler on the first violin and Jae Hyung Kim on the horn. The entire orchestra also deserves a special mention for their non-instrumental activities: a brief line of choral singing and some convincing screaming when a prop snake finds its way into the pit. Conductor Duncan Ward holds the music together while providing a show in his own right. He conducts expressively, with dramatic full-body gestures and amusing facial expressions. He also pounds the drum, cues the children in the audience to create sound effects, and furiously threatens Figaro when the barber chops off part of his wig.

The extreme cuts (by Uwe Sochaczewsky) and utilitarian dialogue (by Elena Tsavara), combined with the high density of slapstick gags, can make the show feel rushed. It’s an eighty-minute Barber of Seville ‘greatest hits’ parade without depth. The staging is cute and clever enough that a longer, more substantial show could have kept the young audience’s interest, especially if an intermission were added. But what’s there is engaging and delightful, for anyone young in age or at heart.