The Kungliga Operan revives a production of the Barber of Seville of some years ago, with a cast of young local singers. I like the old fashioned productions they put up in Stockholm, with cardboard backdrops on the small stage: they are very refreshing, after the insanity I see around the world. So, a very traditional production, with period costumes, and very good direction: the acting was really enjoyable.
The Kungliga Operan orchestra was, as usual, a bit of a hit-and-miss, and Rossini is totally unforgiving. Some squeaking in the strings, here and there, but overall I can’t complain. The brass and the winds did a very good job. I particularly noticed a good performance of the percussions, which are always at risk of being too boisterous in the overture, and were instead very graceful. Eun Sun Kim, a young Korean conductor, was leading them. She was very commanding and fearless. The singers did get lost here and there, in the most agitated scenes, and she was very good at flapping her hands and bring them back to order. She also had some sense of the grace and the elegance needed in Rossini, and I overall liked her work, despite the limits of the orchestra. One thing that I didn’t understand were some absurdly fast tempi, which were completely unnecessary, and strained the singers beyond their ability. This didn’t happen too often, luckily.
The singers, as I mentioned, were all young and local. As we all now, Rossini is even more unforgiving with the voices than with the instruments, so our young cast was really put to the test, and they did their best, mostly with good results. The acting was extremely enjoyable. In the first act the Count and Figaro really seem two young boys scheming, laughing and giggling while they plot to reach Rosina. Rosina, on her side, really looks and acts like a very convincing young girl, and the two lovers are extremely charming in their making out at the end. The whole performance had a freshness and a charm that sometimes is lacking, with more experienced singers.
Figaro was, in my opinion, the best of the lot. Jens Persson managed to give us a confident and funny barber. His voice is not very exciting, but he has a good technique and gave a good interpretation. I believe he could considerably improve, with age and experience.
The Count Almaviva was Joel Annmo, who is only 29 years old, so I’ll try not to be too harsh. He has a very high voice, extremely easy high notes, and good intonation. His voice lacks “ringing”, there is no brass, and the result is a very light tenorino. There is some hope that the voice will acquire volume and confidence, but, as it stands, in the moment he said “Fiorello, olà“, I already knew he would not be up to singing Cessa di più resistere. He just can’t do it, not yet, at least, and, wisely, avoided it. Also, of the whole cast, he was the one who seemed less rehearsed. He forgot the text in the serenade, and started singing random Italian words; he got lost a couple of times in the melody, singing something close enough but not quite right. So, there is room for improvement, and I really do hope he improves, because the high notes are there, and they are a capital that should not go to waste.
Vivianne Holmberg, a coloratura soprano, gave her voice to Rosina. It is always a bit confusing, these days, to hear a coloratura soprano as Rosina, but she gave us a very good interpretation. She acted like a very young girl, and was quite funny. Her voice is secure and high, and her coloratura, although nothing to write home about, is adequate. The high notes tend to “wobble” quite a bit, I think she should get some control on her vibrato in the high register. This is not a big deal, and, overall, her voice is very pleasant and well set.
Don Bartolo was John Erik Eleby, and he seemed definitely more seasoned than the rest. He managed to get through his aria, but he was really at the limit of his capabilities. On the other hand, the aria A un dottor della mia sorte is truly vicious, and the tempo of the final allegro was brutal (unnecessarily brutal, as I mentioned before). He stumbled a bit, but got through it with his head high.
Don Basilio, Lennart Forsén, was an old-fashioned Don Basilio: he screamed a bit, he howled a bit, lacked some elegance. Not horrible, mind you, but it’s so easy to end up doing Don Basilio in bad taste. He never lost intonation, nor support, and that’s already something.
Ivonne Fuchs, singing Berta, was maybe the less satisfying of the singers. Her voice sounded worn out and she didn’t have complete control of it. Now, Berta is indeed supposed to be an old lady, but still. She was very much on point in the ensembles, though, she really did her part. The acting during her only aria was very absurd: she sings “Cursed old age! Everybody despises me, I can only die as a desperate old maid!”, and while she says this, she smiles and dances with three or four valets. Makes no sense.
Kristian Flor did his part as Fiorello and the Officer, very well I must say.
One interesting thing is that the extremely difficult concertati (Mi par d’esser con la testa, or Freddo ed immobile) came out quite well, very few moments where the conductor had to flail her baton around and bring everybody in line. They were clearly very well prepared.
I had a lot of fun, in any case, Rossini is always fun, and the performance was lovely and charming!