Opera Scotland

The Barber of Seville in Scotland

Posted 23 Aug 2023

The Barber of Seville is recorded as having its first Scottish performance on 10 March 1820 in Edinburgh.  This is mentioned in the Caledonian Mercury, but gives no detail other than it was successful enough to have a second performance on the 11th.  The next confirmed performance in Scotland was on 21 June 1824 at the Theatre Royal in Shakespeare Square, Edinburgh.  The music was adapted by Sir Henry Bishop, standard practice at the time, and the cast included the star Edinburgh-born soprano Mary Ann Paton, up from London, where she would soon create the part of Reiza in Weber's final opera Oberon.  The theatre's manager and leading actor, William Murray, played the title role.

Giuseppe De Begnis was a famous buffo baritone who collaborated with Rossini.  In 1817 he had created the part of Dandini in La cenerentola in Rome.  He later moved to London, where he managed the Italian opera company for several years, taking it on tour to provincial centres including Bath, Dublin and Edinburgh.  On the first Scottish visit in 1827 he sang Figaro with Fanny Ayton as Rosina. He repeated the part in 1832 with Josephine de Méric as Rosina and Domenico Donzelli as Almaviva.  This tenor had only a few months earlier created the leading role of Pollione in Bellini's Norma at La Scala.

While Rossini's popularity was fading even while he was still alive, several companies continued to bring the The Barber to Scotland, and even to tour it, mixed in with more recent works.  Henry Corri's Grand English Opera Company in 1869 went to Aberdeen and Kilmarnock.  Their Dundee visit included a local holiday when the Theatre Royal was shut, so the company piled into the train to give a single performance in Arbroath.  The audience were also treated to two acts of Il Trovatore before a special midnight train took the company back to lodgings in Dundee.


Between the wars, UK touring opera was dominated by the British National Opera Company, later to become the Covent Garden Opera. BNOC toured a huge and varied repertoire. While Rossini was nothing like as popular as he has since become, The Barber of Seville was performed regularly.  The company visited Scotland every year and in 1927 visited all four cities - Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. Casts during these years included some leading British singers of the day such as Dennis Noble (Figaro), Heddle Nash (Almaviva), Miriam Licette (Rosina) and Robert Radford (Basilio). Alternates included two important Scottish artists in soprano Noël Eadie and bass William Anderson. The conductor was a youthful star of the future, John Barbirolli.

The Carl Rosa Opera Company, active since the 1870s, only started to tour The Barber during its last thirty years, to 1957.  Again they visited the four cities, and in the 1950s they were casting a mezzo as Rosina, including Glenice Halliday and Gita Denise.  John Heddle Nash, a baritone son of the tenor, sang Figaro, with Scottish tenor William Aitken among the Counts.

Sadler's Wells Opera made several visits to Scotland during the war - in 1944 The Barber was conducted by Reginald Goodall, (later a noted Wagner specalist) with Edith Coates (Rosina) and Peter Pears (Almaviva) among the singers.  There was then a gap until they visited Dundee in 1960. Douglas Craig's new production featured John Heddle Nash and Julian Moyle (Figaro), Catherine Wilson (Rosina), Kevin Miller (Almaviva), Eric Shilling (Bartolo) and Stanislav Pieczora (Basilio). This staging visited the Scottish cities several times in the 1960s, with other singers including David Bowman (Figaro), Patricia Kern and Jenifer Eddy (Rosina), Ryland Davies (Almaviva), Denis Dowling and Derek Hammond Stroud (Bartolo), Noel Mangin and Frank Olegario (Basilio).


The Edinburgh International Festival has hosted four productions by guest companies.  In 1955 Glyndebourne brought Sesto Bruscantini (Figaro), Gianna d'Angelo (Rosina), Juan Oncina (Almaviva) and Ian Wallace (Bartolo).  Alberto Erede conducted Carl Ebert's staging.  Covent Garden came in 1961, with Carlo Maria Giulini conducting a team that included Rolando Panerai (Figaro), Biancamaria Casoni (Rosina), Luigi Alva (Almaviva), Fernando Corena (Bartolo) and Boris Christoff (Basilio).  In 1981 Sir John Pritchard brought his company from Cologne.  Leo Nucci was Figaro, with Alicia Nafé (Rosina), Luigi Alva again (Almaviva), Carlos Feller (Bartolo) and Justino Diaz (Basilio).  Most recently, in 2018, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées brought from Paris a staging by Laurent Pelly, conducted by Jérémie Rhorer.  The singers included Guillaume Andrieux (Figaro), Catherine Trottmann (Rosina), Michele Angelini (Almaviva), Péter Kálmán (Bartolo) and Robert Gleadow (Basilio).


Scottish Opera's first full-scale staging opened for a summer season at the Edinburgh Lyceum in July 1971. Gary Bertini conducted Ian Watt-Smith's production in a newly-restored edition of the score.  The cast included Michael Maurel (Figaro), David Hillman (Almaviva), Elfego Esparza (Bartolo) and William McCue (Basilio). Interestingly, Rosina was sung on alternate nights by a mezzo-soprano (Anne Howells) and soprano (Patricia Hay). This staging toured widely for several seasons, and the many cast members included Malcolm Donnelly and Gordon Sandison (Figaro), Patricia Kern, Catherine Wilson and Linda Ormiston (Rosina), John Robertson (Almaviva), Ian Wallace (Bartolo), Richard Angas and Norman White (Basilio).

The company's second production, in 1980, was more elaborate than its predecessor, but still able to visit small theatres.  The director was John Lawson Graham, with designs by Alex Reid.  The third Scottish element in the production team came with conductor Ian Robertson.  A Dundonian, trained in Glasgow, Robertson had just been appointed head of Scottish Opera's music staff.  After four years conducting a wide range of operas, he moved to the San Francisco Opera, and spent the rest of his career there as Chorus Director. This cast introduced Donald Maxwell (Figaro), Australian tenor Graeme Macfarlane joining David Hillman (Almaviva) and Keith Brookes (Basilio).  Bill McCue switched to Bartolo and Pat Hay returned as Rosina.

Scottish Opera's third production appeared in 1985. Alexander Gibson conducted a modern-dress staging by a team from the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre - director Robert David MacDonald and designer Sue Blane. Singers included Russell Smythe (Figaro), Zehava Gal and Della Jones (Rosina), Patrick Power (Almaviva), G & S specialist Donald Adams (Bartolo) and Geoffrey Moses (Basilio).  An erstwhile Turandot, Ludmilla Andrew, stole every scene as a hilarious Berta.  The 1987 revival was conducted by Richard Hickox, with Robert Dean (Figaro), Eiddwen Harrhy (Rosina) and Terence Sharpe (Bartolo).  In 1991 Robert Dean switched from singing to conducting, to be succeeded by Simon Keenlyside, making an instant impression. John Daniecki (Almaviva) let us hear his fiendishly difficult final aria for the first time.  Eric Roberts was a notable Bartolo and Andrew Slater effective as Basilio.

The present staging was first seen in 2007.  It was the first production to be directed for the company by Sir Thomas Allen, himself a great Figaro of the past. The designer was Simon Higlett, with Sergio La Stella conducting.  The cast was led by Thomas Oliemans (Figaro) and Karen Cargill (Rosina), with Adrian Dwyer (Almaviva), Nicholas Folwell (Bartolo) and Giles Tomkins (Basilio).  It was revived in 2011 under the baton of Francesco Corti. Figaro was played by Ville Rusanen, with Claire Booth (Rosina), Thomas Walker (Almaviva), Tiziano Bracci (Bartolo) and Graeme Broadbent (Basilio).


More recently the Perth Festival in 2012 saw an excellent staging by English Touring Opera.  Paul McGrath conducted Thomas Guthrie's production.  The Figaro was Cozmin Sime, with Kitty Whately (Rosina), Nicholas Sharratt (Almaviva), Andrew Slater, once a fine Basilio (Bartolo) and Alan Fairs (Basilio).


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