La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Budget Barber with a Sign of Fellini and the Marx Brothers

by Giuseppe Pennisi

Il Barbiere di Siviglia is the only Rossini opera which has always appeared on stage, even during the Romantiscism and Verismo periods when most of his productions had disappeared from the theatres of Europe and North America. The libretto is a lot of fun and the music sparkles like good, earthy Lambrusco wine, whereas Paisiello’s earlier Barbiere is sentimental and slightly larmoyant. The Rossini opera is not merely slapstick. It is more subtle than what it appears to be superficially. Dramatically and musically, Il Barbiere contrasts two parallel but quite distinct paths: that of Figaro – efficient, quick, someone who calls a spade a spade – and that of all the other characters, all left behind, fearful and yielding, verbose and bombastic. Even the good-looking and wealthy Almaviva is plaintive, although imbued with music of the highest elegance right from the start. But a mathematician or an economist would tell you from the start of the opera that according to game theory, the wit of Figaro and of Rosina would defeat all the others.

This subtlety was not at all taken into account in the two production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia staged at the Rossini Opera Festival (ROF) in Pesaro. The 1992 production had, as its main set, the Bologna Archiginnasio (a classroom for anatomy lessons in one of the most ancient European Universities). The 2005 production was staged in Bartolo’s house and looked like a prison. There can be little fun and even less subtlety in an anatomy class-room or a jail. Thus, even excellent singing was largely in vain.

Then came a 2005 production by the Fiesole School of Music, which has been revived by a number of Provincial theatres (Jesi, Fermo, Udine, Ravenna). the original was only staged for a few nights in an open-air Roman Theatre. The production was signed by Damiano Michelietto (then very young, now an enfant prodige collecting rewards in the European scene). The production requires, on the stage, only some 20 chairs, 12 umbrellas, a wooden staircase and a few balloons. The overture is in a second (or third class) compartment of a local train. The opera is a Fellini circus: Figaro is dressed like a Fox, Basilio like a Snake, Bartolo like a Dog. And Rosina is a preppy Ivy League Yankee. The pace of the show is swift; there are plenty of gags worthy of the Marx Brothers, and a lot of laughs from the audience. The ROF has been, nonetheless, quite useful: most of the young singers (a Korean, an American, a Russian, a few Italians) come were trained in its school (the Accademia Rossiniana of Pesaro). The stage direction rightly focuses on the contrast between Figaro and Rosina on the one hand, and the rest of the other characters on the other.

By Western European, and Italian, standards the production is a low cost operation: the full tour cost less than € 650.000 (8 performances – viz less than € 80.000 per performance, including rehearsal costs, soloists and orchestra).

Obviously, the latest ROF Barbiere lined up, in 2005 in Pesaro, an all-star cast: Juan Diego Florez, Bruno de Simone, Dalibor Janis, Natale De Carolis and Joyce Di Donato, guided by Daniele Gatti’s baton.

In the latest Barbiere, Giampaolo Maria Bisanti is conducting diligently. There are two casts for the three main roles. On November 13th performance, I saw the tenor Francesco Marsiglia emphasized the central register; he is a lyric tenor more in line with the vocal demands required for Puccini’s Rodolfo in Bohème than with Almaniva’s high Cs and E-flats; the demanding Cessa di più resistere aria was cut. I am told that his alter ego, Enea Scala, is better suited for the role. In the young international cast – a mini UN – there are three voices to note: the Korean Kim Jootaek (23 years old), just perfect (even in diction) as Figaro; the Russian Alexey Yakimov (24), a funny Don Basilio with impeccable grave tonalities; and especially Charlotte Doobs (nearly 20), an exquiste Rosina from Vermont (with a slight New England accent). Roberto Abbondanza also makes quite a good Don Bartolo.



Melodrama buffo in two acts - libretto by Cesare Sterbini from the homonym comedy
by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
in collaboration with Accademia Rossiniana of Rossini Opera Festival 2009
and with La Scuola dell'Opera Italiana (Bologna)

characters and interpreters:

Il Conte d’Almaviva

director and set designer, DAMIANO MICHIELETTO
costume designer, CARLA TETI
conductor, David Crescenz

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