Friday, June 13, 2014

Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich
Saturday 7th June 2014

The current Bayerische Staatsoper production of Rossini's 1816 opera buffa, Il Barbiere di Siviglia was first premiered way back in 1989. It raises a dilemma. The opera's popularity alone might draw existing and new audiences but bring in a star performer the likes of tenor, Juan Diego Flórez and it virtually guarantees a full house. From director, Ferruccio Soleri, there’s a real sense of complacency, however, and despite being plump full of expert vocal and dramatic performances it's surprising this lacklustre Il Barbiere di Siviglia has survived more than two decades.

Carlo Tommasi’s sets create a sense of 18th Century Southern Spanish realism but they’re clunky and lack thought. While may needing to seem impenetrable to protect Rosina, his ward, the Act I set for the exterior of Doctor Bartolo’s house is obtrusive and limits the scene’s action. Act II’s interior set of the house is vacant, with confused access points ill-suited to streamlined story telling and feels more like the hollowness of an empty old timber hall. Ute Frühling's period costumes, which creatively define each of the soloists and warm lighting, provide at least some salvation. But most annoyingly, is the creaking, thumping sound of the timber floors of the revolving stage when the cast make the slightest move. What's worse, there seems a point in emphasising it. How could this have escaped the director’s, or for that matter, anyone’s ears?

Conductor, Antonello Allemandi, led Rossini's overture in a blend of delightfully warm exchanges between the different sections of the orchestra, then maintained tight control to exact freshness and brightness. A tendency, however, to drag the tempo too far down than usual on the slower, more tender scenes, slightly hindered a balanced cohesiveness between poignancy and comedy.

Figaro, the wheeling-dealing scheming barber, ever ready to help carry the plot forward (for a price) is rendered with swaggering, cheerful confidence by Rodion Pogossov. Of course, everyone eagerly awaits Figaro's entrance aria, "Largo al factotum", and Pogossov obliged with vigour, adding his own colourful, baritone signature with a warm, rolling legato. Not so impressive, however, is Figaro's all-important prop, in the form of a disappointing, meagre offering of barber's paraphernalia in a leather wallet.

Kate Lindsey, as Rosina, ward of Doctor Bartolo and, just like everyone else, able to outsmart him, displays immediate self-assuredness in Rosina’s opening aria, “Una voce poco fà”, continuing with vitality and stunning vocal beauty. Ricocheting from one zany episode to the next, Lindsay also concocts an effusive chemistry with her surrounding cast.

The fast-paced pitter-patter of Doctor Bartolo, played by Renato Girolami couldn't be better enjoyed. Together with his accomplice Don Basilio, depicted solidly by Peter Rose, and Bartolo’s sneezing maid, Berta, rendered in squeaky delight by Hanna-Elizabeth Müller, the requisite spice is added to deliver a rollicking show of animated entertainment and adept vocal force.

But it was Juan Diego Flórez who everyone came to see, portraying Count Almaviva, as well as the disguises of a soldier and a music teacher, two of Figaro’s bright ideas to help get the Count into Doctor Bartolo’s house to see Rosina. Flórez starts with an easy, careful pace, notches it up, then in astounding form delivers the almost ten-minute Act II aria not often performed, "Cessa di più resistere", to wild, extended applause. I saw Flórez sing the role in Los Angeles in 2009 and Milan in 2010. As in the previous two, his performance was arresting, holding the troops at bay, but this time suddenly letting all the production's faults disappear for this interlude as the entire cast and chorus stood completely still so as not to upset the groaning stage. Finally, everyone on stage seemed to get it. And together with a steadfast, fine-voiced chorus of soldiers and musicians, the winning cast of characters give some polish to the night.

In the end it all goes horribly wrong (as it has for this production) for old Doctor Bartolo, who arrives just a moment too late to marry his ward, Rosina, instead finding her married to the Count. So, apart from the synergetic charm exuded by the cast and the enduring, catchy tunes courtesy of Rossini, it’s time to dismantle the pieces of this tiresome, dusty construct and find new form.

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