The Organ

The Barber of Seville and Merry Widow

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
29th and 30th November 2005

Giles Havergal's production of The Barber of Seville may be almost twenty years old but it is a model for effective ensemble performance. Under Gareth Jones' firmly fluid leadership from the pit the whole evening sparkled with good humour. Colin Lee's lyrical Count was kept firmly in his place by Andrew Schroeder's Figaro while the two older men were splendidly characterised by Eric Roberts and Daniel Sumegi. Imelda Drumm had both the vocal colour and coloratura for Rosina and Elizabeth Donovan's Berta had her moments! Would that all productions lasted this well.

Unfortunately there are some which should not have got past the drawing board and the previous evening's Merry Widow was certainly among them. It was difficult to believe this was a new production. The sets, particularly the outer acts, looked as though they were coming to the end of a ten year run in twice weekly rep. Ill fitting and badly painted they did little to lift the spirits. All might have been well had the musical side fizzed with the energy the work holds. It didn't. Michael Klauza seemed to have little sympathy for the score, his tempi often erratic, forcing or holding back the natural flow of the musical line. While the chorus tried valiantly to keep up soloists often seemed ill at ease. Not that there was much to engage one where the soloists were concerned. The familiar faces of Donald Maxwell and Linda Ormiston did at least give us some vocal security but they have little to do. Ailish Tynan has the voice for Valencienne but I hope her characterisation was a result of poor direction rather than poor acting. The less said about Tracey Welborn's Rosillon the better. Jeffery Black has the potential for Danilo but often lacked impact - and is the drunk act either acceptable or amusing today?

At the heart of the performance was Lesley Garrett's widow. She can certainly sing the part though it is not always joined up and her costumes looked lovely. What was missing was any real sense of style or grace. The spoken dialogue was frequently more impressive than the singing and for once - dare I admit it - the whole performance could have done with subtle amplification. I had begun to think it was the acoustic but I heard every not of the Barber so it was not the building!

At Southampton Merry Widow was sold out while there were a number of empty seats for Barber. I felt sorry for anybody coming to opera for the first time through Merry Widow - they deserved better and will have got a completely false picture of what opera can actually offer.

Final performances this season in Liverpool on 6 and 8 December.