“Ah, ah, dal ridere sto per crepar!” declares Figaro, chuckling at Doctor Bartolo frozen like a statue. “I am ready to burst with laughter.” Laughter was far from my mind when Annabel Arden’s production of The Barber of Seville opened at Glyndebourne three years ago, yet it’s a very different story this time round. Revival director Sinéad O’Neill has taken Figaro’s razor and sharpened up the stage action, cutting out the mugging to the gallery. What a difference a few cast changes can make.

Hera Hyesang Park (Rosina) and Andrey Zhilikhovsky (Figaro) © Robert Workman
Hera Hyesang Park (Rosina) and Andrey Zhilikhovsky (Figaro)
© Robert Workman

As Count Almaviva, Levy Sekgapane lit up the stage with his megawatt smile and metallic frock coat. His compact tenor is on the dry side but the sound is bright and shiny. He is a decent stylist, displaying neat coloratura and some fun ornaments in his serenade, which was accompanied by some flamenco riffs from the on-stage guitarist. He played up to the roles of sozzled soldier and mendacious music master well. In the circumstances, it’s a pity he was denied the aria “Cessa di più resistere”.

I first heard Hera Hyesang Park in the 2015 Operalia competition, where her dazzling coloratura would have taken the top prize were it not for the astonishing Lise Davidsen. Park’s spitfire Rosina was both stroppy teen and charmer, her big smile and splendid technique winning over the audience. There weren’t many consonants in “Una voce poco fa” but her Italian diction soon came into focus and she wowed in the zinging duet with Andrei Zhilikhovsky’s lovable rogue of a Figaro. Park acted the role with great humour, having fun with the music too, interpolating a snatch of Brahms’ Wiegenlied into her “Contro il cor” set piece. When this production was new, Danielle de Niese was permitted the rarely heard insertion aria “Ah, s'è ver, in tal momento”. No such luck for Park here.

Alessandro Corbelli (Doctor Bartolo) and Adam Palka (Don Basilio) © Robert Workman
Alessandro Corbelli (Doctor Bartolo) and Adam Palka (Don Basilio)
© Robert Workman

Zhilikhovsky’s brawny baritone is not always refined, but his hipster Figaro bursts with energy, delivering an engaging “Largo al factotum”. Italian buffo Alessandro Corbelli returns to the cast as Bartolo and always draws the eye – a single arched eyebrow speaks volumes – and he steals every scene, be it his hangdog expression as he is once more outwitted or milking the applause after Rosina’s singing lesson. Corbelli is well matched by Adam Palka’s smoking bass as Don Basilio, “La calunnia” delivered with a mighty bellow and a knowing wink after they have conducted an amusing “confessional” over the doctor’s table. Janis Kelly, not beyond a few flamenco steps, hams it up as a naughty Berta.

Levy Sekgapane (Count Almaviva), Hera Hyesang Park (Rosina) and Andrey Zhilikhovsky (Figaro) © Robert Workman
Levy Sekgapane (Count Almaviva), Hera Hyesang Park (Rosina) and Andrey Zhilikhovsky (Figaro)
© Robert Workman

Glyndebourne debutant Rafael Payare is a lively presence in the pit, arms waving frenetically, but he’ll want to iron out several moments where pit-stage synchronisation went awry. But the London Philharmonic Orchestra played with plenty of vim and vigour.

Arden sets the action in the 1950s, with all the comic comings and goings in a single set. Joanna Parker’s designs, based on blue and white Moorish tiles, impress, allowing swift scene changes, and the many doors facilitate several surprise entrances. The stage action has been tightened up, with a much greater level of interaction between principals. Even the antics of the three tradesmen attempting to deliver a harpsichord into the Bartolo household rankle a little less, although they still upstage Corbelli a bit in his blustering aria. Despite that, this revival is considerably livelier than first time round, allowing Rossini’s masterpiece to be played for all its comic brilliance.

****1