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Opera, but make it Yorkshire: The Barber Of Seville gets a northern twist for Bradford festival | Ents & Arts News

By ‘eck! Bringing a “decent” Yorkshire translation of The Barber Of Seville to Bradford has been “mad” – but the creatives behind the concept hope it will introduce more people to the world of opera.

The show, based on the famous comic tale of class, marriage, mischief and young love by 19th Century Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, opens the inaugural Bradford Opera Festival tonight.

For Yorkshire-born conductor Ben Crick, a driving force behind the production, this was personal.

Image:
Castellino, who plays Figaro, lets poet and playwright McMillan sit in the barber’s hotseat. Pic: Karol Wyszynski

“I’ve seen too many Shakespeare plays where the thick character comes on and they give them some, like, yokel accent – an accent used to denote some sort of lesser character,” he tells Sky News. “I do care that we do it with some integrity. Even though it’s fun, it’s also a decent work of art.”

Crick insists the “revered”, “semi-religious” way in which Rossini’s works are performed today is not how the composer conceived them.

“They were entertainment of the day, written in Italian for an Italian speaking audience… so anything we can do to drag it back to that, I’m in.”

Rossini’s opera tells the story of Count Almaviva as he sets his sights on the beautiful Rosina and enlists Figaro – barber and all-round man of action – to help woo her.

Mastering some of the language used in poet and playwright Ian McMillan’s new adaptation has been a learning experience for most of the cast.

“Am I gormless? What a cloth head I have been!” sings baritone Oscar Castellino, who grew up in India.

How the lyrics have been translated

Prior to being cast as Figaro, he admits his only experience of hearing the Yorkshire dialect was through listening to cricket commentary.

“Geoffrey Boycott!” he laughs. “We loved the accent and how opinionated he was…

“In Hindi in India, we have the same flat vowels… there’s something similar there but it’s not easy.”

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While the singer admits he’s spent a lot of time “listening to people in the supermarket” during his breaks, he maintains that learning Yorkshire is not so different to what he’s used to.

“We’re always singing in different languages as opera singers, it’s what we do.”

Mezzo Soprano Felicity Buckland, who plays Rosina, says the whole process has “been mad from start to finish”.

“You have to get into the groove but once you’re there with your vowel sounds, then yeah – it reminds me a little bit of Russian, actually.”

Ian McMillan created a version of Romeo And Juliet - set around two rival ice cream vans - in Yorkshire in 2017
Image:
McMillan created a version of Romeo And Juliet – set around two rival ice cream vans – in Yorkshire in 2017

The idea for this version of Barber Of Seville first came about in 2017, after McMillan created a free staging of Romeo And Juliet with a Yorkshire twist – set out of rival ice-cream vans. The show proved popular and introduced the show to passers-by who might not have made the trip to the theatre.

Alex Chisholm, co-founder of the Bradford Opera Festival, says the stakes are high.

“If opera carries on and the demographic of people who are making it and the demographic of people who are watching just gets narrower and narrower, it will die. It will die as an art form.

“If we’re not doing this now, if we’re not making Bradford Opera Festival happen now – and we’re working in communities, in schools – we will not have the writers, the performers, the musicians, the singers, the composers to create work that is meaningful and relevant and of the Britain we live in now.”

While daring to mess with a classic might be risky, organisers hope it’s a chance to give the typical stuffiness often associated with opera a big ta-ra.

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