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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia - Melodramma Buffa in two acts (1815)
Count Almaviva, Lawrence Brownlee (ten); Figaro, a barber, Nathan Gunn (bar); Bartolo, a doctor and ward of Rosina, Bruno de Simone (buffa bar); Rosina, Elina Garanca (mezzo); Basilio, a singing teacher, Kristinn Sigmundsson (bass); Berta, Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper, Giovanna Donadini (sop); Fiorello, servant of Count Almaviva, Roberto Accurso (bar)
Chorus of Bavarian Radio; Munich Radio Orchestra/Miguel Gómez-Martinez
rec. live, Philharmonie in Gasteig, Munich, 7-8 May 2005. DDD
SONY CLASSICAL 82876 80429 2 [72.46+79.43]

 

Of Rossini’s thirty-nine operas Il barbiere di Siviglia is the only one to have remained in the repertoire since its composition. When the composer met Beethoven in Vienna the great man told Rossini to only compose buffa operas like Il Barbiere. Verdi was also a great admirer of the work as he was of Rossini’s opera seria and particularly his William Tell. Il Barbiere was one of the works Rossini squeezed in during his contract as Musical Director of the Royal Theatres at Naples and where he was supposed to present two new works every year. In the first two years of his contract he composed no fewer than five operas for other cities, including four for Rome. Rossini travelled to Rome from Naples to present Torvaldo e Dorliska to open the Carnival Season at the Teatro Valle on 26 December. Whilst there, on 15 December 1815, he signed a contract with the rival Teatro de Torre Argentina for a comic opera to be presented during its Carnival Season, the score to be delivered by mid-January! After one unsuitable subject was put aside, and by now in some haste, it was decided to base the new opera on Beaumarchais’s Le Barbier de Séville and Cesare Sterbini prepared the libretto. To avoid any offence to the widely-respected Paisiello, who had already composed an opera based on that story in 1782, the opera was presented as Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (the useless precaution), later reverting to the title by which we now know it. It was first performed on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro de Torre Argentina, Rome.

Given its popularity it is no surprise that recordings of Il Barbiere abound and any new addition to the catalogue faces stern competition. The move from studio recordings of opera has meant that many distinguished singers have missed out on the opportunity to set their interpretation for posterity. One of the last mezzos to set down her interpretation via an audio recording was Jennifer Larmore in 1992 (Teldec). The current Rosina of the moment, mezzo Joyce di Donato, has had to be satisfied with appearing on DVD in the idiosyncratic Paris Opera production of 2002 (see review). She also appeared in the new December 2005 Covent Garden production by Caurier and Leiser, conducted by Mark Elder. If that performance appears on CD or DVD it will provide an even better opportunity to appreciate her many vocal and acting strengths.

This new recording from Sony derives from a conflation of two concert performances given in Munich in May 2005 and features three principals new to me. Of those, the most distinguished singing comes from the Latvian Elina Garanca as Rosina. Her rich contralto-ish tone is matched by good extension, legato and ability to characterise. The showcase Una voce poca fa (CD 1 tr. 10) holds no terrors for her nor does Bartolo’s bad-tempered interventions and coercions required by the plot. I believe this is Elina Garanca’s first complete opera recording and on the basis of what is to be heard here, I doubt if it will be her last. It came as no great surprise to learn, as I was reviewing this performance, that she has been signed up by DG with a recital disc promised for next year. With Joyce di Donato, Daniela Barcellona and Jennifer Larmore all clustered round the same fach, I hope that when DG get round to featuring her in complete operas they do not add to the proliferation of Il Barbieres and Cenerentolas, but investigate the rapidly declining Rossini oeuvre not yet available on CD or DVD.

Of the other two newcomers, both North Americans, Lawrence Brownlee as Almaviva and Nathan Gunn as the eponymous Barber, neither is of Elina Garanca’s quality. Nathan Gunn’s light flexible lyric voice lacks some variation of colour and fleetness in patter in his Largo al factotum (CD1 tr.5). Nonetheless his contribution is never less than musical and his interplay with colleagues is first class. Brownlee has a light flexible tenor voice with a distinct edge to his tone that may enable him to move up to heavier lyric roles in the future. As it is he cannot maintain the heady mellifluous and even tone of the tenore di grazia throughout the length of the opera. He gave me hope of having the required quality in Ecco ridente in cielo at the start of the opera (CD 1 tr. 3). However, as the performance continued, and particularly in act 2 where Count Almaviva has a lot to sing, his voice tired. The possible pleasure of his second act aria, often omitted in performance and recordings, was not realised (CD 2 tr. 19). The Bartolo of Bruno de Simone is sketched rather routinely whilst the Basilio of Kristinn Sigmundsson is no more idiomatic than on the DVD of the idiosyncratic Paris production shared with Joyce di Donato.

The conductor Miguel Gómez-Martinez draws scintillating playing and fine contributions from orchestra and chorus. His tempi are fleet and he brings out the brio of the piece. Although I can see no reference to the edition being used, I believe it is Zedda’s Critical Edition. The two CDs are presented in an open-fold format with the booklet glued into the first open side. The booklet has a brief essay, a synopsis, regrettably not track-related, all in German, French and English. A full libretto with German and English translation is included on CD 1 as a PDF file accessible via PC/Macintosh for those with an Adobe Reader.

Robert J Farr

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