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A Beginner's Guide to the English National Opera's The Barber of Seville at London Coliseum

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Curtain call, the cast of English National Opera's performance of The Barber of Seville at the London Coliseum
Curtain call, the cast of English National Opera's performance of The Barber of Seville at the London Coliseum

Navigating the opulent corridors of the opera for the first time can feel like stepping onto an alien planet where the language is as unfamiliar as the customs. It's akin to the first day at a new school; you're keen to fit in but can't quite grasp the lunchroom politics. Such was the initial disorientation when stepping into the grandeur of the Coliseum, armed with nothing but a ticket and a keen spirit for "The Barber of Seville." Yet, the transition from bewildered newcomer to enraptured audience member took less time than brewing a proper cup of tea.

Spectacular Singing and a Captivating Plot: The Opera Newbie's Dream

For those who've always thought opera was just about Vikings belting out glass-shattering notes, "The Barber of Seville" serves as a delightful contradiction. It's like discovering your favorite pop song has an acoustic cover that's somehow even better. The singing isn't just spectacular; it's an all-encompassing wave of sound that sweeps you off your feet and deposits you gently into the heart of the story. The performers' voices resonate through the Coliseum with the kind of power that makes you wonder if they're secretly superheroes.

The plot is a thrilling rollercoaster of schemes, disguises, and a barber who's more of a Renaissance man than your average hair-cutter. It's gripping, with enough twists to keep you guessing, yet sprinkled with humor that sparkles without the need for any insider knowledge. However, a word to the wise: opera regulars have a mysterious ability to preempt the jokes. Laughter erupts with an impeccably timed precision that could make you feel a tad out of the loop. But fear not, the joy of discovering these moments firsthand is a pleasure unspoiled.

Immaculate Set Design: A Visual Feast

The set and costumes in this production aren't just backdrops and attire; they're portals to another era. The attention to detail is so meticulous that it feels like the crew might have commandeered a time machine for research purposes. The stage is a canvas of opulence, each prop and piece of furniture telling a story of its own, while the costumes are so vibrant and authentic you'll be forgiven for trying to Google where to buy a 17th-century outfit on the way home.

For anyone who's always scrolling for subtitles during foreign films, the opera's approach is refreshingly considerate. Surtitles are there to guide you, but not so much that you're glued to them, missing the spectacle unfolding on stage. It's a gentle nudge rather than a constant tug, allowing you to soak in the visual masterpiece without feeling lost in translation.

To Glass or Not to Glass?

Ah, the eternal question of the theatre-goer: to enhance the view with opera glasses or to brave the distance unaided? The bee took its glasses along as it knew the Coliseum is notorious for how far the stage can feel even from the stalls. Embracing the former can transform your experience from watching a play to being in the play. Suddenly, every facial expression, subtle gesture, and intricate detail of the costume is crystal clear. It's the difference between watching a football match from the back row and being right there on the sideline—you can practically see the game plan unfolding.

Who Would Enjoy "The Barber of Seville"?

This opera is a Swiss Army knife of cultural experiences; it's got a little something for everyone. If you're a newcomer to the opera scene, looking for a blend of accessible humor, gripping narrative, and auditory bliss, then congratulations, you've hit the jackpot. It's as beginner-friendly as a bicycle with training wheels, offering a gentle introduction to the art form without any compromise on depth or entertainment.

Lovers of historical narratives and intricate plots will find themselves at home amidst the scheming and the laughter. The set and costume enthusiasts, meanwhile, can feast their eyes on the lavish designs that bring the era to life with stunning accuracy.

In essence, "The Barber of Seville" is an opera that refuses to be pigeonholed. Whether you're there for the laughs, the tunes, or just to marvel at the spectacle, it's a production that is highly like to (but not certain to, obviously, because the bee can't speak for the entire human race) entertain, engage, and perhaps even educate.

Four stars!


Watched February 2024 at the London Coliseum

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