I am very torn on this Barber of Seville. On one hand, the production was completely crazy, and it seriously interfered with the music. On the other hand, I had loads of fun. So I will tell you both the good and the bad.
Let’s start with the orchestra, under the baton of Giacomo Sagripanti. They did a great job! The overture was fantastic, I discovered details I had never heard before. In general, Sagripanti did everything in his power to keep together singers and orchestra, in the mayhem happening on stage, and he pretty much managed almost always. The chorus also managed to keep rhythm and intonation in that mess, so Bravi!
Obviously the action is moved in contemporary times. The scene was beautiful: a street in modern Seville, with several balconies opening on scene, laundry out to dry, a tapas bar. The central part, which is the building where Bartolo and Rosina live, turns on itself to show the internal part, which is on three floors (see pic). Now, this building does not just turn 180 degrees and stops. No sir. In many an occasion, it keeps turning like a merry go round, while the singers go in and out of doors, peek out of windows, go up and down stairs, all the while, of course, singing.
The intonation, for some sort of miracle, never falters, and this gives you the measure of how professional these people are. But, alas, they are always out of breath! It’s a disaster: when they need to run here and there they breathe all the time, the coloratura loses the support of the breath and it relies on the throat, with a somewhat harsh result. The rhythm and the intonation are always perfect, no doubt, but the result is not optimal at all. Rossini deserves better. The part that came out worst was the concertato Mi par d’esser con la testa, which was confused and not very enjoyable, a total chaos not understandable at all. At the reprise the 6 singers stopped running (thank you, God), they sang the da capo while standing still, and finally we managed to hear it the way it was supposed to sound. The scenic effect was remarkable, though, as I was saying, I had so much fun.
Another positive element of this crazy production is that, for once, it managed to make sense out of the time transposition to modern days.
Rosina is a very credible teenager in the clutches of a “guardian” whose intentions are very obvious. For the first time, I saw a Barber of Seville where finally there is a true and unapologetic description of what it is about: a creepy old man, from a position of authority, lusts after a young girl under his care, and she defends herself with all the few weapons she has. During the great aria Un dottor della mia sorte, the amazing Nicola Alaimo as Bartolo turned out absolutely disgusting: he put his paws on her, closed in on her in a corner, and she had to defend herself pushing and shoving and running away. The scene was almost too emotional for me: Alaimo managed to convey a Bartolo who is an arrogant bully, and, from his position of absolute authority, threatens and blackmails her to obtain her favors. All without unnecessary violence or vulgarity.
Figaro, who, as you recall, is “cerusico, spezial, veterinario” (doctor, apothecary, veterinarian) besides being a barber, and gives “opium” and “black hellebore” to Don Bartolo’s servants, obviously in the XXI century is a pusher of marijuana. He and Rosina smoke together a giant joint during the duet Dunque io son – Donne donne eterni dei. The scene is truly funny, and the duet becomes more alive and meaningful.
Some strange details: in the scene of the music lesson we don’t see the Count at the cembalo, as usual, but rather, Rosina plays a cello herself while singing.
The most beautiful part of the whole opera was the finale. Starting from Dolce nodo the director left the singers alone; they could sing in peace without jumping around and Rossini finally came out in all his magnificence. The climax was of course the aria by Brownlee, truly beautiful. The two lovers drive into the sunset on a motorcycle with tin cans tied to it, amidst the roaring applause of a very happy audience.
And now, the voices.
Lawrence Brownlee is very much at ease in Count Almaviva’s clothes. Without making any comparison, his coloratura is solid and very well set on the breath (when he doesn’t have to run up and down stairs). His Cessa di più resistere was remarkable. He could sing without running around, and the result was fantastic. I have already described his voice in my review of Cenerentola, and I can confirm my first impression: velvety timbre, great high notes, wonderful coloratura, zero metal. He’s also a great actor, but this applies to all singers in this production.
Rosina was Pretty Yende, and I think it’s the first time I see a Barber with a Rosina who is a coloratura soprano. She has a beautiful voice, really strong and agile, great intonation. In Una voce poco fa the audience exploded. She really did her fireworks (and she could, because she was left alone, singing without running around). I am not completely convinced about her technique: it seems to me that sometimes she produces her coloratura pushing too much with her throat. But only every once in a while. She’s a very credible teenager, she’s got spunk, and her verve is truly contagious.
Alessio Arduini sang the part of Figaro. At the beginning of the performance somebody came out to say that he was sick, and, as a matter of fact, I caught him coughing here and there. But in my opinion he did a great job. I had already heard him as Dottor Malatesta in Don Pasquale, and I liked him a lot, although I had some second thoughts about his technique. Here he confirmed the wonderful natural gifts, and I was a bit more convinced that he is in fact singing on the breath.
Bartolo, as I was saying, was the great Nicola Alaimo, perfect in the role. He has great know-how, a perfect interpretation. His voice is agile and powerful, with no imperfections.
Iidar Abdrazakov, a Russian bass, was a great surprise as Don Basilio! A wonderful voice, which manages to come out powerful and funny without resorting to cheap tricks: no exaggerations, no high notes taken from below, no screaming, a good technique and a great interpretation. The aria La calunnia was the best I’ve ever heard. The director made Don Basilio a funny/crazy guy who roams around singing and dancing and playing the tuba, and he really seemed like he was having a ball.
Last but not least, Anais Consans was a great Berta. The voice is round and strong, confident high notes, very funny in her interpretation. The only problem is that she’s a bit too young for the character, but she really gave it all she had. The production avenges Berta’s character: after the aria where she complains that she’s old and nobody wants her anymore, she finds a mature lover and takes him home, rolling in the hay with him on the third floor of the doll-house while Rosina, Figaro and the Count try to escape.
I am overall very happy that I have seen this Barber of Seville, but I would really like to see a generation of opera directors who respect the music and the singers. Although, to be honest, I’m not sure Rossini would have objected to this production 🙂