As a renowned gastronome, Gioachino Rossini could have shown Mary Berry a thing or two in the Great British Bake-Off tent. He had several dishes named in his honour, most famously the mouth-watering Tournedos Rossini, and was even alleged to have composed the aria “Di tanti palpiti” whilst waiting for his rice to cook. When it comes to his music, opera buffa like The Barber of Seville require the gentlest of touches, lightly whipped and fluffy as a soufflé. However, last night the Royal Opera served up the operatic equivalent of stodgy semolina, slapped unceremoniously onto the plate with a trowel.

Vito Priante (Figaro) and Daniela Mack (Rosina) © ROH | Mark Douet
Vito Priante (Figaro) and Daniela Mack (Rosina)
© ROH | Mark Douet

This is the fourth revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier's candy-striped production, whose broad slapstick I've enjoyed on at least three previous outings. Apart from the nocturnal opening scene, played before a giant crescent moon, the action is confined to a giant box on hydraulics, serving as Doctor Bartolo's home. Revival director Thomas Guthrie telegraphs the gags. Figaro gets a bowl of shaving foam slapped into his face, comedy policemen weep into Pavarotti-sized handkerchiefs, Berta's sneezes register on the Richter scale. The audience chuckles at surtitles like “The cheese has landed on the macaroni” before the lines are delivered. It ain't subtle, but when hampered by such disappointing musical performances it added up to an utterly charmless evening.

José Fardilha, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Vito Priante, Daniela Mack and Javier Camarena © ROH | Mark Douet
José Fardilha, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Vito Priante, Daniela Mack and Javier Camarena
© ROH | Mark Douet

Vito Priante, our happy-go-lucky factotum, was full of bonhomie as he wound his way through the Stalls, but – like most of the cast – sang too loudly. There were disappointing House debuts from Daniela Mack and Javier Camarena. Mack has a dark mezzo and the requisite agility, but her Rosina was more akin to Amneris: ferocious, like a caged panther. Camarena has a pleasant tenor and an amiable stage presence, but when he hit coloratura runs, his voice took on an unattractive nasal quality, heavily aspirated. For all its vocal bravura, Almaviva's showpiece “Cessa di più resistere” suffered from disjointed phrasing and wayward intonation.

Ferruccio Furlanetto (Don Basilio) and José Fardilha (Doctor Bartolo) © ROH | Mark Douet
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Don Basilio) and José Fardilha (Doctor Bartolo)
© ROH | Mark Douet
José Fardilha's irascible Bartolo was good fun, if not as expert as Alessandro Corbelli in the less-is-more school of comedy. His patter was far from clean, but he blustered well. Ferruccio Furlanetto's Don Basilio played the comedy for all it was worth but he was another who ramped up the decibels. “La calunnia” was bellowed and roared, which is appropriate enough in the context of the aria, but he slipped and slid too far from the note.

After an overture which was on the sluggish side, complete with woozy horn playing, Henrik Nánási woke up and powered through the rest of the score at a bullish pace that matched the absence of subtlety of stage. The finale of Act I suffered from the slackest ensemble I’ve heard at Covent Garden, stage and pit hopelessly out of sync. Woodwind playing was attractive, but there was little springy lightness from the strings, cellos and basses lacking firm definition. And the last thing you need in Rossini is a soggy bottom.

**111