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.
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