Ard Scoil Students Go to "The Barber of Seville" Opera
4th June 2012
Review by Lauren Mulvihill
As someone who has never attended and ordinarily wouldn’t express a wish to attend an opera, it’s fairly easy to see why I arrived at the performance of Rossini’s “the Barber of Seville” on the 1st of June with relatively low expectations of how I would enjoy the show. Like most uncultured people of my age, I had decided beforehand that I was likely to be bored stiff listening to arias and harpsichords while not understanding a word of the Italian lyrics. But I’m extremely glad to say-and this is something I rarely enjoy admitting to-that my closed-minded expectations disappeared entirely as soon as I sat down.
The Barber of Seville as we now know it was written in 1773 by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais and composed by Gioachino Rossini. It is the first in a trilogy of plays by Beaumarchais, and takes place in Seville, Spain. It opens with us discovering that Count Almaviva has fallen in love with a girl named Rosina, and enlists the help of the Barber of the play’s title, Figaro, to win her over. But the Count and Figaro have a problem: Rosina’s guardian and villain of the show, Dr. Bartolo, also wants to marry Rosina, so Count Almaviva must be clever in order to marry Rosina himself.
Before talking about the opera itself, I first of all need to compliment the staging. The opera took place in a marquee, which had been set in front of what I presume to be old stables in the gardens of Lismore Castle, which is an undeniably beautiful place anyway. If I had seen the crumbling walls and stone courtyard with its water fountain- and also the natural light of the evening, which was used brilliantly to document the time passing, either intentionally or otherwise-in any other setting, I would have sworn to you that we were actually in a small Spanish village, rather than a castle courtyard in Ireland (although it has to be said I wouldn’t mind going to either place).
The orchestra, who had been placed into a corner and were referenced to by the characters in the opera quite a few times to good effect, was quite small and only consisted of about six people. But this worked much better than it would have with a larger orchestra, as the violins, cellos, harpsichord and flutes’ gave the opera’s music a romantic quality that complimented the story well.
The play itself was excellently performed. According to my programme, Pervin Chakar, who played Rosina, is a “mezzo soprano” singer, which means she has a lower range than that of a soprano singer, but I was still genuinely surprised that any glass in the area didn’t shatter when she hit her highest notes. Owen Gilhooly (Figaro) Javier Abreu (Almaviva) and Damon Nester Ploumis (Dr. Bartolo) were also all brilliant leading men, as were the cast of secondary and tertiary characters that appeared throughout the opera. The director’s eye for detail could also be seen when Bartolo entered reading what I saw was a Spanish newspaper!
The Barber of Seville is a comic opera, but since I’m guessing the vast majority of the audience didn’t speak Italian, most of its comedy was physical. I was immensely impressed that the actors managed to do all the energetic movements and jumping around that physical comedy requires while all the while their voices remained at a consistently high standard, not faltering once. It’s hard to make an audience laugh so much when they can’t understand a word of what you’re saying, but they managed it.
Also in attendance was President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who as a poet and former Minister for Arts and Culture is well known to enjoy these kind of events. Before the opera began, he gave a speech telling us how wonderful the opera was and told the students in the audience how it’s important for young people to enjoy the arts in every form. He also threw in a few sentences as Gaielge, and must have been pleased when they fitted the language into the opera, too (Bartolo counted napkins as haon, dó, trí, ceathair…)!
Finally, I want to congratulate everyone involved in the opera-the director, musicians, actors and stage assistants-for putting on such a good show and thank Lismore Music Festival for inviting the Árd Scoil students to attend. I think it’s safe to say we all had a fantastic night!
4th June 2012