Before the beginning of each opera, an announcement is made reminding the audience not to film, photograph, tweet, post, google, snapchat... Komische Oper Berlin premieres a hilarious Barber of Seville where the singers do nothing but just that. Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov gives Berlin a wonderful musical portrayal of the digitally indigenous Generation-Y. Rossini's effervescent music suits a ceaseless and furibund communication via eighty-character messages and emotive hieroglyphics astoundingly well. No photo? It did not happen. Overture too long? “Speed it up please, Maestro Manacorda”. A stereotypical millennial penchant for impatience, cell-phone obsession, selfies and self-documentation fill the production, which truly gives one pause for thought – when not laughing at the brilliant comedy of it all.

Dominik Köninger (Figaro), Tansel Akzeybek (Almaviva), Philipp Meierhofer (Bartolo), Figaro doubles © Monika Rittershaus
Dominik Köninger (Figaro), Tansel Akzeybek (Almaviva), Philipp Meierhofer (Bartolo), Figaro doubles
© Monika Rittershaus

The performance begins with an anxious but oh-so-hip Denis Milo as Fiorello pacing the stage on which the casually dressed orchestra is assembled. His tenor-diva employer, (Count Almaviva), arrives, but finds the six minute overture too long and must nap. 'Quiet please Maestro Manacorda'. The chorus, which has been brilliantly disguised within the orchestra, (itself brilliant), then surprises the audience as they begin to sing - brilliantly. What a pleasure. By now it is clear that a night of amusing surprises awaits the audience.

The engaging stage construction allows a good deal of the action to occur in front of the orchestra pit. Dominik Köninger uses this to great advantage as Figaro and the audience enjoyed his full frontal baritone, which filled the hall wonderfully and charmed throughout. Tansel Akzeybek's Count Almaviva showed us a great pair of legs while dressed as a Conchita Wurst lookalike for the music lesson! His coloratura was more of a feint than an actual performance, although it did improve as the night went on. Nicole Chevalier's Rosina gave us the best coloratura execution of the night, but her tone was more mature than one would expect from the innocent ward Rosina. Perhaps, having seen and chatted about all things imaginable on social media, a more worldly tone from Rosina was perfectly appropriate. This Rosina's innocence was long gone.

Dominik Köninger (Figaro) and Tansel Akzeybek (Almaviva) © Monika Rittershaus
Dominik Köninger (Figaro) and Tansel Akzeybek (Almaviva)
© Monika Rittershaus

The much maligned Bartolo, as a member of an older generation, did not bother himself with the cell phone messaging, and behaved, dressed, and sang in a traditional, but certainly not staid matter – a very  nice performance by Philipp Meierhöfer in this role. Basso Tareq Nazmi as Don Basilio somehow lost the plot, neither here nor there, unfortunately. Bartolo's housekeeper Berta, performed by Julia Giebel, huffed and puffed until she finally got to sing her aria, which she did rather unconvincingly.

Nicole Chevalier (Rosina) and Tansel Akzeybek (Almaviva) © Monika Rittershaus
Nicole Chevalier (Rosina) and Tansel Akzeybek (Almaviva)
© Monika Rittershaus
In this production Serebrennikov references the current refugee crisis. Serebrennikov fits this interestingly into the production by having Count Almaviva arrive at the home of Bartolo as a refugee, rather than the traditional drunken solder. Rosina eventually appears with a simple sign stating that refugees are welcome – an interesting injection.

A nod to the film Matrix could be noted in the light projections, and the stage was often frenetically busy, including stark spotlights flashed directly into the audience, which were at times wearisome and unnecessary. It was visually overwhelming, including a bizarre parade of chorus members in cryptic costumes. Other quirks included three 'extra' Figaros; charming and acrobatic, but why? Perhaps Mr Serebrennikov and his co-stage designer Alexey Tregubov could consider that it is not always necessary to offer the audience a visual distraction during a lovely aria.

Berlin now has three Barbiere productions from which to choose in this 200th anniversary year of the opera's première. In repertoire at the Berliner Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater is the 1968 staging by Ruth Berghaus, witty, elegant, yet modest. The Deutsche Oper offers its hilarious Katharina Thalbach production from 2009, and often has the best voices. The Komische Oper Barber of Seville fittingly thumbs its nose at some of the opera's traditions, incorporates important current issues, while still sending the audience home laughing and humming great Rossini tunes. And of course, with an urge to take the cell phone out and post a quick tweet...