The Barber of Seville (or Salisbury) - King's Head Theatre, 6 October 2010
If there's one work that seems designed to survive the pub opera treatment, it's The Barber of Seville. Its strengths lie in tunes, jokes and neatly-woven plot, so replacing the orchestra with a dodgy upright piano takes surprisingly little away.
Robin Norton-Hale's new English version shifts the action from Seville to Regency Bath. She takes the odd liberty with the translation, but does without the irritating neologisms beloved of many updaters. Slower-moving and repetitive sections have been condensed or snipped out. A few small additions strengthen characterisations, with the Count's womanising ways and the Doctor's social inferiority complex clearly drawn. In the intimate surroundings of the King's Head (size: a generous drawing-room) operatically-scaled caricature simply wouldn't work; here everyone is human-sized.
The singing falls somewhere between Covent Garden and bathtub standard, but every word is crystal-clear, which is more than you can say for most opera in English. As for dramatic skills and comic timing, this cast beat the average international opera star hands down.
I'm slightly concerned about Opera Up Close's threat of a pub Lulu somewhere down the line (stick to G&S, please), and I'm not convinced the founders' lofty aspirations of bringing opera - real opera - to the masses have been (or ever can be) met with a production of this sort. But it's a great evening out.