Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

John Savournin: The Barber Of Seville

By | Published on Friday 8 March 2024

We look forward every year to finding out about the latest pantomime from Charles Court Opera and it invariably turns up in our recommendations in December. Until now, though, we haven’t really talked much about the non-festive work the company does, which seems a bit remiss. 

Fortunately, we have an imminent chance to correct that, as the company’s production of ‘The Barber Of Seville’ begins a run at Wilton’s Music Hall shortly, and it’s a very alluring staging of the classic opera, as it’s been relocated to the Wild West. 

To find out more, I spoke to Charles Court Opera AD John Savournin. 

CM: ‘The Barber Of Seville’ is a well loved work, but can you tell us the bare bones of the story, for those who don’t know?
JS: It’s a sitcom in operatic form. Bartolo is the wicked guardian of Rosina, who is sought after by a handsome Count.

With the help of Figaro, a barber and general factotum, he finds ways to meet her through various disguises and ruses, and ultimately finds love.

There are lots of slapstick moments in this very domestic comedy that’s full of humour and wit.

CM: Your version of it sounds rather different though – can you explain about the different setting and why you decided to do that?
JS: Instead of Seville – where Bartolo is a gentlemen in a fancy house – we’re in the wild west – where Bartolo is a saloon bar owner.

Rosina is a singer in the bar, Berta – normally just a maid – is a woman of the town, to put it mildly…

It’s such a fun setting that has given the characters a new lease of life, in this heightened, cinematic world.

CM: Do you think this unusual setting might attract audiences less used to seeing opera?
JS: Absolutely. We’re blending worlds, and using a well-known genre as a way into the original opera. 

CM: A lot of people find opera intimidating, I think. What would you say to encourage people to try it for the first time?
JS: It’s just like going to see any other piece of theatre – play or musical – except that the singing is in a classical style. But the music really enhances the storytelling.

Perhaps don’t start with something very long, like a Wagner opera. But something like ‘Barber’ – especially when sung in English as it is in our case – is a perfect place to start.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast of the show?
JS: We have a fantastic cast of young singers who are all delivering fantastic performances. Joseph Doody and John Gyeantey are doubling as Count Almaviva, Jonathan Eyers plays Figaro, Samantha Price and Meriel Cunningham double as Rosina.

Plus Matthew Kellett plays Bartolo, Hugo Herman-Wilson is Don Basilio, Ellie Laugharneplays Berta and Arthur Bruce takes the role of Fiorello.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team behind the scenes?
JS: Our fantastic set and costume designers, James Perkins and Victoria Smart – known as ‘Good Teeth’ – are just amazing. 

They’ve had great successes recently at the Lyric Hammersmith, and I’ve worked with James many times in the past.

They’ve come up with this wonderful design for Wilton’s Music Hall which is so atmospheric and the perfect place for a Saloon bar!

CM: And now can you tell us what your job is on the production and how you’ve approached this?
JS: I see my role as a director to give the cast a steer in the right “direction”, while keeping an eye on how clear the story and the characters are drawn, with the design and concept that I’ve developed with the designers.

That’s a really important part of comedy – to make sure you understand and believe all the characters in the situation. That’s what situational comedy is all about, after all.

CM: Every winter we talk about the Charles Court Opera panto, but up until now we haven’t really covered your other shows – can you tell us a bit more about the company and what it does year round?
JS: Aside from the pantos, we tackle either a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta or a ‘grand’ opera every year as well, and this year we’re tackling both, with a production of G&S’s ‘The Sorcerer’ in the summer. 

We are also very committed to making shows for children, often creating a new musical show to take into schools.

CM: What’s coming up in the future? Do you have any long term ambitions for the company?
JS: Aside from ‘The Sorcerer’ – which is G&S’s first full length opera and very rarely performed, so it’s a really exciting one for us – we are presenting ‘Dewi In The Deep’, which is a children’s opera, in a co-production with the Royal Opera House and The Opera Story. 

We’re also releasing a series of radio episodes about opera for children in collaboration with CBBC’s Chris Jarvis and embarking on our fourth co-production with Opera Holland Park, presenting G&S’ ‘The Yeomen Of The Guard’. 

As for longer term ambitions, well, I couldn’t possibly share these… but there are some exciting projects on the horizon! 

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
JS: I’m going to be singing at Garsington Opera in their production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten’. 

I’m returning to a favourite role – Peter Quince – so it’ll be really nice to come back to him and that wonderful opera.

The Barber Of Seville’ is on at Wilton’s Music Hall from 12-23 Mar, see the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

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