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The Barber of Seville

Sippin’ wine, killin’ time – William Ryan watched the other half kick back

The Barber of Seville commences with the love-struck Count Almaviva attempting to serenade his true love, Rosina, on the steps of her home. For the next three hours, the audience will discover whether the Count wins her heart, pulling her out of the clutches of the despicable Dr Bartolo.

Fittingly, just half an hour earlier, I ascended the stairs of the Opera House. This was my first time in the building. And my first time at the opera.

This production of The Barber of Seville had been met with critical acclaim. Notably, the Sydney Morning Herald gave it four-and-a-half stars, describing it as “unforced, fluent and openly coloured”.

The same could be said about much of the audience. Suits were in abundance, expensive jewellery hung from necks, and absolutely all phones were switched to silent. These were people of passion. So how does a student of the 21st century fare as a student of the opera?

Indeed, like one staring into an emptied glass of expensive wine, I found myself wondering, “Is this really worth it?” Like most students, I am fluent in neither Italian nor musical theory. This certainly prevented my appreciation of the medium, and is something I am not sure can be overcome. Moreover, as a child reared in an era of fast cuts and crime-thrillers, I found the narrative of The Barber of Seville slow and, in some places, tedious.

That being said, revival director Hugh Halliday did endow the performance with modern, subtle and frequently comedic touches. Smirnoff vodka bottles were dispersed amongst traditional alcohol. An actor playing a disgruntled doorman sported a punk-rock hairstyle. A soldier wore a Digger’s costume.

Indeed, it would be wrong to say that I was helplessly tangled in the technical complexities of the opera. Surtitles (translated subtitles) were provided to aid understanding of the narrative, and it was clear that the performers were talented. Namely, Anna Dowsley played the part of Rosina with great impetuosity. Juan José de León brought an endearing naivety to a role of Count Almaviva. The costuming and set were simply outstanding. 

Concession prices start at $44, though ritzier seats cost upwards of $300. For three hours of entertainment in a world-class venue, the former is really quite reasonable.

Much like the Count Almaviva serenading Rosina in the opening scene, I came to The Barber of Seville hoping to be well received. Yet when I left, I questioned how genuinely the opera sought to woo me.