Il Signor Bruschino Review
An ‘opera-for-people-who-hate-opera’ (as well as for those who love it)
The operatic farce by Rossini involves two lovers, Sofia and Florville (Alice Webster and Andrei Smid), whose only problem is that Sofia’s guardian Gaudenzio (James Ward), has arranged for her to marry someone who is not Florville; namely, Bruschino Junior. Unperturbed, Florville decides that the best course of action is to steal Bruschino Junior’s identity, which goes remarkably well until Bruschino Senior (Louis Wilson) points out that ‘Bruschino Junior’ is definitely not Bruschino Junior. Some arguing, flirting, commenting on the heat, and lots and lots of singing later, Bruschino Senior has a change of heart, and opera ends “Hurrah for love; yes, may it last forever!”. Wholesome.
Slightly confused? So was Bruschino Senior when a random man claimed to be his son. Luckily the audience were provided with librettos, complete with an English translation, with which to follow the action. Whilst, at times, aggressive page turning in the audience made the production feel like an edgy thought experiment in audience participation, it was pointed out in the pre-opera talk that handing out librettos was standard practice in the nineteenth century.
The intimate performance space – Emmanuel College Chapel – perfectly suited the scale of the one-act opera, and the small cast never felt dwarfed; rather, they absolutely filled the space with personality and sound throughout. The orchestra, under the baton of Jamie Conway, quickly overcame a balance issue early on to deliver an expertly tailored performance which managed to accommodate the soloists whilst being far too interesting and delicately executed itself to be ignored.
The accessible nature of the opera, handy libretto, cosy setting, and superb musicianship were all central to the success of the production, but it was so much more than that. There was not a weak link in the cast, and even the minor characters – including a Police Commissioner whose entire role is to stir sh*t and then leave – were brought to life with the same absolute conviction and panache as electrified the main roles. Webster, Smid, Ward and Wilson were simply flawless, both musically and dramatically, and were let down only by the opera not being any longer. The libretto itself is genuinely funny, and this humour pervaded the entire production, from the sheer joy with which some of the lines were delivered, to one of the orchestra members stumbling on stage – wine in hand – mid-overture.
Opera fan or not, this truly magnificent production is not to be missed.