fast-moving, zestful and colourful

Opera News, 15th July 2005

Bampton Classical Opera is a vivacious and talented young British ensemble which presents opera in a charming, picturesque Oxfordshire garden. It has a special gift for breathing fresh life into rare and neglected repertoire. Recently it successfully staged Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni and Salieri’s Falstaff. This summer it boldly set its sights on Paisiello’s The Barber of Seville.

Paisiello’s Barber, first staged in St.Petersburg in 1782 and seen in Vienna a year later, enjoyed huge popularity among Italian operas until Rossini’s upstaged it in 1816. Mozart learned from it; and it’s easy to see why. What it lacks in sophistication of plot and orchestration it makes up for by sheer energy and verve.

Much of the fun of Gilly French’s skilled, fluent rhyming translation focused, naturally, on the flimsy, humorous deceptions engineered by Figaro (Nicholas Merryweather) and Rosina (Rebecca Bottone) to outwit her jealous guardian, Bartolo (a delightfully gruff and crotchety performance from Paul Carey Jones), latterly invoking the connivance of Don Basilio (Marc Labonnette).

Jeremy Gray’s fast-moving, zestful and colourful production transferred the action from Seville to a British 1950s holiday camp, where Rosina is virtually imprisoned in Bartolo’s caravan. It was launched with a memorable patter aria from the characterful Figaro: Nick Merryweather is an impressive young baritone, with fine breath control, a lovely rounded tone, snappy delivery and a clever sense of timing. Although Figaro has a less prominent role lattterly than in Rossini, with much of the comedy falling on the amorous antics of the disguised Count, he instantly stamped his personality upon the role.

With a welter of rickety ladders, mislaid letters and improbable entries and exits, the action all looked deliciously unlikely, and fuelled many comic mishaps. Bampton’s orchestral strings excelled themselves under a sensitive and incisive new conductor, Paul Hoskins, the woodwind was stylish, and the harpsichordist, Kelvin Lim, brought marked flair to the well-paced recitatives.

Adrian Dwyer (as the disguised Almaviva) is a charming and appealing lyric tenor with good upper range who – not least in the Count’s early serenade – prised the maximum fun from the furtive wooing scenes. But it was Rebecca Bottone’s delivery of Rosina’s arias, especially Act 3’s ‘Gia riede primavera’, into which Paisiello inserts a meltingly lovely Siciliana, which finally stole the day. With a fluent delivery, beautiful tone across the range and an acting gift to match, Miss Bottone, daughter of the distinguished tenor Bonaventura Bottone, is clearly a soprano with a promising future.

Roderic Dunnett