Rossini's Barber returns at ENO

ENO remains a joy and a gem

Rossini's Barber returns at ENO
Innocent Masuku and Charles Rice, phot © Clive Barda

Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia (sung in English translation by Amanda and Anthony Holden). Cast, Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera / Roderick Cox (conductor). Coliseum, London, 22.02.2024


Director - Jonathan Miller 

Revival Director - Peter Relton 

Designer – Tanya McCallin 

Lighting designer – Tom Mannings 

Revival Lighting designer – Marc Rosette 



Figaro – Charles Rice 

Rosina – Ava Dodd (replacing Anna Devin) 

Count Almaviva – Innocent Masuku 

Doctor Bartolo – Simon Bailey 

Don Basilio – Alastair Miles 

Berta – Lesley Garrett 

Fiorillo – Parick Alexander Keefe 

An Official – Geraint Hylton 

A Notary – Paul Sheehan 


Jonathan Miller’s cherished production of Rossini’s Barber returns to the Coliseum in a revival by Peter Relton. It was lovely to see what looked like a full house for this performance; although a shadow was cast when a pre-performance announcement was made: Anna Devin, due to sing Rosina, was indisposed and her place would be taken by Ava Dodd (who had sung Second Niece in Peter Grimes for the company, and who will also sing Rosina, scheduled this time, at the matinée on February 27). 

The conductor, Roderick Cox, making his ENO and UK debut, seemed to have some problems with his placement before the baton down, but that unsettled feeling continued in a performance that was largely on the slow side. Tempos were uniformly just under (o more than ‘just’), making it harder for the cast to bring the necessary life to the evening. All credit to the orchestra (and chorus) of ENO though, not only for sustaining the lines but also for their near-perfection of execution throughout the long evening; the second act storm was particularly impressive. 

Miller’s production, first seen in 1987 at ENO, brings together farce and the commedia dell’arte (the latter immediately obvious in the costumes of the opening scene). The interior setting, bright and inviting with plenty of places to ‘hide, in designer Tanya McCallin’s realisation,’ could easily be part of a West End comedy. Tom Mannings’ lighting was on point throughout and seen in the safe hands of revival lighting designer Marc Rosette on this occasion.  

Members often NO Chorus, photo © Clive Barda

The Barber himself, Figaro, was Charles Rice, returning after his performance in as Sir Robert Cecil in ENO’s Gloriana last season (Mark Berry’s review is here). A commanding stage presence, Rice sings with a strong voice and pleasing tone; he is dramatically convincing throughout. Ava Dodd, currently a member of Stadttheater Klagenfurt, made a huge impression. If initially her upper register felt a touch hard, that evened out as the evening progressed; more importantly, she has all the agility Rosina requires, delivering a stand-out ‘Una voce poco fa’ in the first act. Even better, her soprano voice extends down to the lower reaches perfectly (Rosina can also be sung by a mezzo, but Dodd seems to be the best of both words). I look forward very much to encountering Doods onstage again. 

The Count was sung by South African tenor Innocent Masuku, an ENO Harewood Artist who had appeared in multiple roles las season (in Gloriana, Carmen, The Dead City and The Yeoman of the Guard). If his voice felt a touch reedy and insubstantial at times, he has a fine comedic talent. Simon Bailey’s Bartolo (last seen in ENO’s Rheingold as Fasolt: see my review) set the standard for all Bartolos. As Don Basilio, the well-loved and universally-admired Alastair Miles (who sang the same role in 2017) was simply perfect, his ‘La Calumnia’ dripping with experience.  

How wonderful, too, to re-encounter Lesley Garrett, whose singing career has encompassed a sheaf of roles internationally and whose television appearances and albums have endeared her to many. She was an enchanting Berta (complete with authentic Northern – Yorkshire – accent). All of the smaller roles were well taken, as one has come to expect from an ensemble house like ENO, with ENO Harewood Artist Patrick Alexander Keefe an especially strong Fiorillo. 

Lesley Garrett as Berta, photo © Clive Barda

ENO remains a joy and a gem. The company launched by operatic journey way back in the early 1980s with a Rusalka, closely followed by a Valkyrie. These days, each performance seems like a gift, the trails and tribulations of the musicians thoroughly undeserved.

Previously on Classical Explorer, we considered this DVD from Vienna.