Annabel Arden’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was premiered at the 2016 Glyndebourne Festival to mixed reviews. Sinéad O’Neill’s revival for Glyndebourne on Tour has allowed for a few unnecessary edges to be knocked off, and several of the less successful eccentricities have now gone. The Count’s Elvis-style quiff is toned down, and Bartolo’s in-joke Glyndebourne picnic on stage (which would make little sense once the production is out on tour) is sensibly absent. The surreal antics of the trio of actors, at times with more than a whiff of Laurel and Hardy as they manhandle (for no clear reason) a harpsichord around the stage, are trimmed slightly, and feel less intrusive. They do provide occasional useful counterpoint, such as being a foil for Janis Kelly to raise Berta’s Act 2 aria to one of the comedic high points of the production.

Laura Verrecchia (Rosina) and Tobias Greenhalgh (Figaro) © Bill Cooper
Laura Verrecchia (Rosina) and Tobias Greenhalgh (Figaro)
© Bill Cooper

Joanna Parker’s design uses a backdrop of Moorish blue and white tiles, highlighted with a stylised geometric pattern, setting us in Spain, but the costumes are non-specific in terms of period, some, but not all, suggesting the 1950s. There’s lots of colour and interest (the cascading red flowers in the opening balcony scene, the blue tiling and the bright green uniforms of the police), even if this doesn’t add up to a consistent overall concept. Up against the current revival of Jonathan Miller’s 25-year-old production up at the Coliseum, Arden’s production ultimately lacks a coherent vision, but it is pleasing to the eye and entertaining throughout, even when somewhat randomly, harpsichords (fortepianos?) descend from the sky in the confusion at the end of Act 1.

Janis Kelly revives the role of Berta she played in the 2016 production, and Adam Marsden, soloist from the Glyndebourne Chorus, ably repeats the role of the Officer. Otherwise, the cast is new, with the remaining leads all making their Glyndebourne debuts. Italian Laura Verrecchia has a full, rounded mezzo voice, yet is still agile enough to negotiate Rossini’s fiendish coloratura. Her Rosina is full of guile, less knowing and more innocent than Danielle de Niese played her in the production’s first outing. Italian baritone Filippo Romano’s Dr Bartolo was suitably pompous, with some wonderfully manic articulation of the rapid-fire text.

Laura Verrecchia (Rosina) © Bill Cooper
Laura Verrecchia (Rosina)
© Bill Cooper

American tenor Jack Swanson's Count Almaviva, after a little initial insecurity, settled nicely into his role, with a finely polished “Ecco ridente”, and developed great rapport with his fellow American, baritone Tobias Greenhalgh (Figaro), who excelled as the eponymous barber. His Figaro had swagger, but was utterly charming from the outset, proving to be the linchpin of a strong ensemble cast. His “Largo al factotum” oozed charisma, with no hint of effort. The Belarusian bass Anatoli Sivko gave us a nicely bemused Basilio to complete the line-up.

Rossini’s fast-paced farce relies on a great number of ensemble pieces, which means that the principals must blend well and avoid any one voice or character dominating the action. There were one or two places where the pace of the faster ensembles were in danger of running away with the group, but they held on, and at their peak, the set pieces fizzed along effortlessly. There was certainly less ham than in the production’s previous outing, which meant that the daft twists and turns unravelled without too much mugging. The surtitles struggled to keep up with the pace of the action, which for anyone unfamiliar with the contortions of plot would prove challenging. 

Anatoli Sivko (Don Basilio) and Marco Filippo Romano (Dr Bartolo) © Bill Cooper
Anatoli Sivko (Don Basilio) and Marco Filippo Romano (Dr Bartolo)
© Bill Cooper

Ben Gernon and the Glyndebourne Touring Orchestra gave able support throughout, one or two woodwind tuning issues aside. Gernon also held his nerve and kept the train on the rails in those faster ensembles, giving clear direction for the singers to latch back onto. In an enjoyable if somewhat incoherent production, however, it is the team of lead singers that shine here, with Tobias Greenhalgh standing out as one to watch. The production is on tour until 2 December.