Barefoot Opera bring The Barber of Seville to Shoreham’s Ropetackle

Company founder Jenny Miller
Company founder Jenny Miller

Company founder Jenny Miller directs as Barefoot Opera bring The Barber of Seville to Shoreham’s Ropetackle on Saturday, September 28 at 8pm

With their usual inventive, exuberant ensemble style, they will offer Rossini’s comic masterpiece, Il Barbiere di Seviglia in Italian with English surtitles, fully staged and with the Barefoot Band led by Lesley Anne Sammons.

Figaro the barber is played by Oscar Castellino, who has just completed a full scholarship with the Welsh National Opera Academy and Rozanna Madylus comes promised as a lively, richly-toned Rosina.

Rossini’s music has been compared to “the best champagne”, and it’s in that sentiment that the company invites you to enjoy it.

“We have been going as a company for about 12 years now,” says Jenny. “I set it up, and my intention was to create a training company that would emphasise the value of physical theatre and action and drama and movement in the way that we use our voices.

“People react to opera in different ways, and of course it is glorious to see the whole thing of Covent Garden, but the way we do it is very exciting and very visceral when it is just a few steps about from our audiences.”

Jenny says opera has been “grotesquely” underfunded over the years, and a lot of the mid-scale touring companies have disappeared – which is where the smaller-scale Barefoot Opera comes in: “We have a four man-band. We can reconfigure the score, and it is very transportable. And we try to perform in a way that is fresh and new and invigorating.”

But Jenny is quick to stress there is absolutely no dumbing down: “We don’t change the music. The music is the music is the music is the music. There was once a company that tried to get a pop singer in. We don’t dumb down in any way and present the singing with the best possible intent. It is just that we want to make it very elastic and very alive.

“Speaking from the inside – I was a professional singer for many years – the way classical singers are taught to sing tends to stultify their movement. They become stiff because of the way they are trained.”

Key to Barefoot Opera is to get away from that. Hence the emphasis on the physical.

“Ask children what opera singing is like and they will say (Jenny makes a warbling sound)… But it shouldn’t be like that. You don’t have to have that horrible fake vibrato. That’s just not a terribly well trained opera singer!”

Partly the problem, Jenny says, is that opera is not as indigenous to this country as it is to, say, Italy. Yes, there are great opera composers in England, but in Italy for instance opera is so much more part of life.

“When I was working in Italy, the fishmonger in the flat below said to me ‘That tenor wasn’t up to much last night!’, and I think that that is the real difference, that connection. But now in this country there are a lot of smaller companies that are wanting to get that excitement and engagement and immediacy of opera.”

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