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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
Il Barbieri di Siviglia (1816) [157.00]
Text by Cesare Sterbini after Beaumarchais
Cecilia Bartoli - Rosina
David Kuebler - Count Almaviva
Gino Quilico - Figaro
Carlos Feller - Bartolo
Robert Lloyd - Basilio
Edith Kertész-Gabry - Berta
Cologne City Opera Choir.
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gabriele Ferro
Director, Michale Hampe; Stage design, Ezio Frigerio; Costumes, Mauro Pagano.
Recorded at the Schwetzingen Festival 1988
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français. Track list, plot synopsis. No texts.
Format PAL 4:3. 2.0 PCM stereo. Region 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Subtitles in English, Deutsch, Français, Castellano, Italiano.
Menus English, Deutsch, Français, Castellano
NTSC Region 1 version available from Naxos, ASIN: B00009MGK3
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 090 [157.00]

Comparison DVD Recordings of Barbieri di Siviglia:
Abbado, Prey, Alva, Berganza. staged by J.P.Ponnelle DG DVD 0730219GH
Keilberth, Prey, Wunderlich, Köth, Hotter, 1959. Bel Canto Society VHS BCS 0603
Zedda, Malis, Croft, Larmore, Netherlands Opera and Ballet, RM Arts ID5779RADVD

My one viewing of this opera live was with the New York City Opera touring company starring Beverly Sills, but other than the fact of my being there, all memory of that performance has been erased by superior video performances seen since. This recording is overall the best performance and staging of the opera Iíve ever seen!

I had an odd difficulty when first playing this disk, a problem Iíve never had before. The sound and picture were desynchronised, giving the impression that the actors were speaking, say, in German but the sound had been dubbed in Italian. The problem was cleared up by pressing first the >¶ then the ¶< key.

To say that David Kuebler with his habitual bug-eyed grimacing is no Alva, no Wunderlich, no Araiza, is not to be taken as a problem. Heís a fine singer with a unique vocal quality, a terrific actor, and he contributes a great deal to this performance. But the star is Bartoli, and she is exceptional in every way. Feller and Lloyd in their roles are a couple of highly intelligent, cynical, and self-righteous conspirators, who make you feel genuine menace and disgust, so the drama is urgent and the ending all the more satisfying. If they were to be presented as imbeciles or buffoons, easily diverted by a half-hearted effort, the opera would lose much of its drama. Figaroís first big aria is the first show-stopper, of course, but Robert Lloydís La Calunnia is deservedly the second. Prey and Quilico are both excellent as the Barber, but I think Quilico is the better actor by a slight margin; his character is more shrewd, better matched to Fellerís capable and determined Bartolo.

The audience is perfectly well behaved and very quiet when they need to be. Set design and video direction are conservative and we spend most of our time looking at the full stage with mid-close-ups only when appropriate. Sound is very clear and forward.

The Ponnelle version from La Scala was originally filmed on a studio set (I am familiar only with the laserdisk version) and takes advantage of that medium for some optical special effects, whereas this Schwetzingen version is live video from the stage and hence more immediate and realistic. But you may well prefer the Ponnelle version which also features exceptional singing, acting, and staging. This director has staged a number of very fine opera productions.

The Keilberth version is poor B/W kinescope recording video quality, sung in German, no subtitles, cut to 140 minutes, but the power of the performance comes through anyway, a document of Wunderlich ó and the other excellent singers as well.

The voices in the Netherlands opera version are all young, bright, and agile (including Basilio, Fiorello, and Berta) and everybody concerned is having a great dal of fun. Jennifer Larmore is a charming Rosina and she embellishes her part handsomely, showing off her powerful high range. I donít recall that Rossini included a saxophone in his orchestra, but this is a newly published critical edition by this conductor; he must have his reasons. From the beginning of the overture to the end of Scene 1 the stage is filled with leaping dancers performing a Spanish street fair with lots of gaudy props. While Figaro is reading Rosinaís dropped note to the Count and to the audience in Italian, costumed street players come on stage and display a large poster with the text of the note on it in Spanish, a gag repeated at several other places in the opera. For a Dutch audience...? During the countís first act Lindoro song, he poles himself along on a moving platform with the stage covered with flapping fabric to simulate a gondola on the water. In a street in Seville? The dancers of course are also the stagehands who change the sets without lowering the curtain. La Calunnia turns into a ballet of black-suited men running about the stage with white umbrellas. The entire ballet troup appear as soldiers and servants for a truly chaotic first act finale ó but how did that horse get into the house and why is Bartolo riding it in a Don Quixote costume? Et cetera, et cetera... Youíve been warned.

Rossini always spelt his first name with one C but almost nobody grants him that courtesy, whereas no one seems to have any problem with George FRIDERIC Handel, or JEAN Sibelius, other cases where composers have insistently used variant spellings of their first names.

Paul Shoemaker

Packaged with:
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
LíItaliana in Algeri (1813) [147.00] Text by Angelo Anelli
Mustafá - Günther von Kannen
Elvira - Nuccia Focile
Zulma - Susan McLean
Ali - Rudolf A. Hartmann
Lindoro - Robert Gamgil
Isabella - Doris Soffel
Taddeo - Enric Serra
Bulgarian Male Chorus, Sofia
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ralf Weikert
Director Michale Hampe; Staging and costumes, Mauro Pagano.
Recorded at the Schwetzingen Festival 1987
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français. Track list, plot synopsis. No texts.
Format PAL 4:3. 2.0 PCM stereo. Region 0 All regions
Subtitles in English, Deutsch, Français, Castellano, Italiano.
Menus English, Deutsch, Français, Castellano
NTSC Region 0 version also available.
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 120 [147.00]

Comparison Performances:

Callegari, Di Mico, Pertusi, Matteuzi, Praticò. Bel Canto Society VHS BCS 0674 from Italian television, available at
Levine, Horne, Montarsolo, staged by J.P.Ponnelle, N.Y. Met. Orch. and Chorus, broadcast January 11, 1986.


This Schwetzingen Festival performance seems to be the preferred version now, indeed the only one available on DVD, and itís a pretty good show all around. Picture and sound are very clear. Isabella has a bright, precise, agile voice and the perfect imperious manner. The singing, acting, staging and costumes are generally very good. But I have a quarrel with the subtitles: "Sarà quel che sarà" should not be translated into "English" as "Que será será," Doris Day notwithstanding.

Of our three Mustafas, Montarsoloís is the best sung and acted, but von Kannen has the girth and the "muso." What a pity he doesnít have the voice, too; he has a resonant lyrical voice, but no agility in the coloratura passages. On the Met version the other singers are excellent, the sets are OK, the staging is energetic and imaginative; that Met version is certainly the best performance of the opera Iíve ever seen.

You know how I like mysteries, so here is one: Of all the Metropolitan Opera broadcast performances of this period, certainly all the Ponnelle stagings, this is the only one not yet released on commercial video. If I hadnít been watching that night and turned on my recorder (unfortunately I ran out of tape for the last half hour) I would have no record of it. If you love opera on video, write everybody you know and demand to see this tape released. Somebody with "approval" in his-or-her contract must be holding it up. Letís not even think that maybe the master tape might not have survived.

The heavily advertised Bel Canto tape is available in both NTSC and PAL, is in colour and in stereo, but the production is awkward and amateurish. The settings and costumes are interesting, although they set the opera in Istanbul instead of Algiers, the stage business inventive and convincing, and the extras were selected for their physical beauty so there is always something pretty to look at, male and female. This is the only Taddeo young enough to plausibly interest the finicky Isabella; the others are obviously rich dirty old men. Zulma has a strong, clear, voice but the other voices in the cast are unfortunately thin, unsteady, and off pitch, the makeup flat, the sound unbalanced, and the overall effect tiring.

Paul Shoemaker

see also review by John Philips

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