Saturday night. Mare Street. Bus engine drum rolls and taxi cab brass. In the middle of chaos stands the Hackney Empire, with a buzzing chorus of people swarming out front. We’re all here to see the English Touring Opera’s Barber of Seville, which is on the first leg of a national tour.
The Empire was surely built for nights at the opera, plastered as it is with frescoes and edged with gilt. Narrow passageways are lined with tiles that gleam, and the roof of the main auditorium twinkles with a thousand fake stars. The scarlet curtain that hangs heavy over the mouth of the stage screams of epic, operatic passion within.
ETO’s Barber of Seville was simple and funny, filled with delicious music and impressively delivered song. Grant Doyle as Figaro (the barber) was particularly good. With tickets ranging from £10 to £32, the ETO and Empire offered big opera at low prices.
Rossini’s comedy was first staged in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome, where it was damned as a complete failure. 2012’s Hackney audience couldn’t have been warmer. Every aria was applauded with gusto, and the cast and orchestra were showered with whistles and whoops at the end.
The Barber has moved on but Hackney Empire has, as ever, lots up its sleeve in the coming weeks. Events include a jazz opera about baseball, Spiritualised in concert, Horrible Histories – Terrible Tudors, a musical about Tina Turner and one about Ian Dury, plus a trio of offerings from the Isango Ensemble.