HIGHLIGHT: Johannes Slabbert as Figaro.

The Barber of Seville
Director: Christine Crouse
Conductor: Kamal Kahn
Cast: Students of the UCT Opera School and members of the Opera Studio, accompanied by the Cape Town Pops Orchestra
Venue: Artscape Theatre
Until: Sunday
RATING: ****

 

High in colour and spirit, this Cuban version of Rossini’s Barber of Seville is a breath of fresh air, invigorating as a chilled mojito. Despite the departure from tradition, Christine Crouse’s production works remarkably well, with due attention paid to justifying the transplant – such as Figaro fleeing from Seville to Cuba to escape his creditors.

The Spanish element is plausibly sustained, and the laid-back existence of the community in which the action takes place suits the character of the Barber, whose life evolves randomly as his ingenuity is challenged by one crisis after another.

Under the energetic baton of Kamal Kahn, the Cape Town Pops Orchestra immediately sets the tone with the opera’s familiar overture, the lyricism of the opening section giving way to the mischievous vivacity that characterises the piece – and its protagonist.

The opening night cast brings Johannes Slabbert to centre stage as Figaro, and this young baritone has all the presence, personality and vocal power to fill the part handsomely.

Far from being intimidated by the challenges incidental to the role, Slabbert seems to relish every appearance – and there are many, starting with a lustrous rendition of the best-known aria in the opera (about a certain factotum). He is ably supported by his less experienced but equally astute fellow-conspirator Rosina, endearingly interpreted by soprano Bongiwe Nakani.

Full marks to Siyabulela Ntlale, who, complete with Movember moustache (like Figaro), gives a near-flawless portrayal of Bartolo. Wise direction from Crouse has prevented him from becoming grotesque, while remaining a figure of fun. As such, he is credible as well as amusing, and his full-throated rendition is well up to the vocal demands of the role. Makudupanyane Senaoana, as Almaviva, has his best moments disguised as a tipsy soldier. In more formal mode, he lacks the authority expected of a count used to being obeyed.

Thesele Kemane steals the show among secondary characters as the venal and ingratiating Don Basilio. His reading of the “slander” aria is elegantly hilarious (a tricky feat), his theatrical talent matching his prowess as a singer.

A major strength of Crouse’s Cuban Barber is the quality of the three sets, devised by students of the CPUT. They have injected a welcome freshness into the staging of this hoary work. With so much new talent combining in zesty artistic unanimity, this Barber is bound to please its audiences.