Il Barbiere Di Siviglia
(The Barber Of Seville)
Artscape Theatre
20 to 24 November 2013
By: Gioachino Rossini
Directed By: Christine Crouse
Conductor: Kamal Khan
Design: CTO in collaboration with CPUT Surface Design III Students
Lighting: Kobus Russouw
Movement Director: Jaki Job
Review: Clifford Graham

Of course opera can be fun, a lot of the great operas written were meant to be fun. Gioachino Rossini and librettist Cesare Sterbini wrote The Barber of Seville to be just that, a comic opera, or in Italian opera buffa. Deliberately written to entertain and make the audience laugh at the antics of the characters, it was surprisingly not well received after its premiere performance at the Teatro Argentino in Rome in February of 1816. However since then it has become standard repertoire for opera companies all over the world, and as was evident on the opening night performance I attended on Wednesday evening, it has retained the power to entertain and delight even the most novice opera goer. Director Christine Crouse has set the story in Cuba which adds a great deal of rich colour and a vibrant Latino energy to the performance. The set (CTO in collaboration with CPUT Surface Design III Students), has been carefully crafted to take the audience to Havana. To add to this, conductor Kamal Khan has tweaked some of the score to add just a hint of Latin rhythm in places. It’s all well placed, and turns The Barber of Seville into an evening of opera fun and mirth which audiences will remember for some time to come.

Thanks to movement direction by Jaki Job, the cast are given the opportunity to show off a little bosa nova and rhumba rhythm, well placed to fit Rossini’s score tweaked or un- tweaked. At the end of the first act, a dance macabre ala Rocky Horror Show performed by the ensemble is a delight, and fittingly closes a rich and vibrant first act. Our interval is filled with expectation of good things to come, and in the second act the good times continue.

There are so many good performances and performers in this production, there has to be a constant risk of upstaging, but good direction ensures that the ensemble play in sympathy. Johannes Slabbert’s Figaro is a tour de force, his Largo al factotum, which in this opera is the aria we all want to hear, is performed imaginatively and flawlessly. It’s a wonder Slabbert can keep up with the energy of the aria given the frenetic movement in the staging.  
Bongiwe Nakani (mezzo soprano) never falters in a very expressive performance. She evokes a great deal of audience sympathy in her portrayal of Rosina.
As Basilio, Thesele Kemane’s baritone voice is striking and rich. His wonderful stage presence lends itself to this role perfectly. Janel Speelman as Berta, servant to Dr Bartolo (Siyabulela Ntlale) lives up to the comedic demands of the role. Of praiseworthy mention is Makudupanyane Senaoana as Count Almaviva. I could go on and on, such is the strength of the cast but here I have to single out a non-singing role. Neil Barry Moss as the hapless Ambrogio brought the house down with his antics, even when asleep. By far the busiest performer on the night, is conductor Kamal Khan, who not only conducts the orchestra and plays the recitatives, but mouths every word of the opera to the cast.

Of course (assuming you have a ticket to this now sold-out season), you may see the alternate cast, by all accounts every bit as good as the cast I had the good fortune to see. All in all Cape Town Opera, the UCT Opera School, Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Studio, the Cape Town Pops Orchestra and all who have put so much work into this production, are to be congratulated for a production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville which entertains in every respect.