Il Signor Bruschino, one of Rossini’s early one-act farces, is a good-natured and insubstantial piece with a complicated plot. Roughly, Florville wants to marry Sofia; her guardian objects (shades of The Barber of Seville), so Florville imitates Sofia’s other betrothèd, the son of Signor Bruschino. It’s a minor piece with interesting premonitions of the music in more major Rossini, and this CUOS production, directed by Duncan Fraser, brought out its frothiness with a good deal of visual wit.
Andrei Smid, as the tenor lead Florville, showed a light and bright voice, which was perhaps lacking in a last degree of resonance, but well-suited to Rossini in this mode. He was charming and funny, particularly in the ensembles. As Sofia, Alice Webster projected well and was the only singer not to struggle with the orchestra, and rattled through the coloratura with admirable precision, but sounded strained and not ideally free in any part of the voice. Her acting left something to be desired: Webster somehow didn’t seem comfortable on stage. Sofia is perhaps a less rewarding role, but there was a little more to be done with it.
James Ward, as her guardian Gaudenzio, revealed a remarkable bass voice, and sounded impressively Italian. He was wonderfully attuned to the text and the possibilities of characterisation. As the eponymous Signor Bruschino, Louis Wilson was underpowered vocally – perhaps a commitment to the character taken a little too far? – although he improved later in the evening, and was an alert and witty presence on stage. Smid, Ward and Wilson’s trio, where Florville and Gaudenzio reproach an increasingly frustrated and baffled Bruschino for failing to recognise his ‘son’, was a delight.
The orchestra, under musical director Jamie Conway, ran into some trouble with the overture and had persistent problems with intonation, but improved drastically over the night. Ensemble with the cast was imprecise, although it is difficult to coordinate with singers in front of orchestra and conductor, and on occasion the orchestra was just too loud, overpowering the singers. The harpsichord in the recitatives was a touch eccentric at times. The orchestra was capable and sometimes very good, but suffered from imprecision.
There were a few questionable decisions – foremost among them having Bruschino’s son sing his lines in falsetto, an octave above what’s written – but the directing team used the limited stage resources of Emmanuel College Chapel well, and crafted a lively and entertaining show. The production could have done with more fizz earlier in the night, and the dramatic energy dropped outside of the big ensemble numbers. At its most animated – and the piece warmed up considerably over the night – this production revealed in Il Signor Bruschino real warmth and spontaneity.