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alternatively Crotchet

Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia - Melodramma Buffa in two acts (1816)
Count Almaviva, an aristocrat in disguise who in enamoured of Rosina - Nicolai Gedda (ten); Figaro, a barber and general factotum – Sherrill Milnes (bar); Bartolo, a doctor and elderly guardian of Rosina and who fancies to marry her – Renato Capecchi (buffa bar); Rosina, ward of Bartolo enamoured of Almaviva - Beverly Sills (soprano); Basilio, a singing teacher – Ruggiero Raimondi (bass); Berta, Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper –Fedora Barbieri (mezzo); Fiorello, servant of Count Almaviva – Joseph Galiano (bar)
Chorus of Bavarian Radio. Munich Radio Orchestra/Miguel Gómez-Martinez; John Alldis Choir
London Symphony Orchestra/James Levine
rec. All Saints’ Tooting, London, August 1974 and May 1975
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 3932762 [74.57 + 76.15]

Of Rossini’s thirty-nine operas Il barbiere di Siviglia is the only one to have remained in the repertoire since its composition. When Rossini met Beethoven in Vienna the great man told him: 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, 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. 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.
Given its popularity it is no surprise that recordings of Il Barbiere abound. In the 1970s EMI often sought to fill their catalogue with international stars of renown, no matter that they were past their best or asked to sing in a fach not currently in their repertoire. Beverly Sills debuted in 1951 and eventually achieved stardom and international notice in 1966 when singing Cleopatra at New York’s City opera in 1966. Her bubbly personality and very light flexible coloratura rapidly became flavour of the month with recording companies and international opera houses except for New York’s Met where she did not debut until 1975, a mere four years before she retired from the stage. Whilst some of her recordings played to her vocal strengths as a lyric coloratura soprano others did not. EMI had a penchant for recording sopranos as Rosina, first with Victoria de los Angeles and then with Maria Callas. But Rossini’s writing for Rosina is for a mezzo not for a voice such as Sills or los Angeles had to offer and major transpositions are required which totally change the character of the work … and that is before decorations and cadenzas are even mentioned. Rosina gives her guardian the run-around and is something of a viper in the hands of an expressive mezzo in the middle and lower register. All Sills is in this performance is a display artist of her own particular vocal skills, then somewhat past their best, not of Rossini’s creation. This lack of characterisation can be heard in the cavatina Una voce poco fa when Rosina sets out her intentions (CD 1 tr. 14). Further bad news comes with Nicolai Gedda, as Rosina’s suitor. He is no longer capable of singing this role with the heady mellifluousness and vocal lightness required and it is a relief he doesn’t get Almaviva’s second act aria. Sherrill Milnes is in vocal prime and sings a fine Barber, his Largo al factotum is a rare delight in this issue (CD 1 tr. 7. Ruggero Raimondi is sonorous if a little lugubrious in La Callunia (CD 1 tr. 18). Levine conducts with more vigour than Rossinian verve although he shapes the overture well (CD 1 tr. 1 and makes much of the storm music (CD 2 tr. 18).
For those wanting a bargain-priced Barber can do worse than the Naxos recording of 1992 which is textually complete. It features the experienced Rossinian mezzo Sonia Ganassi as Rosina and the young Ramon Vargas as an ardent suitor in appropriately light voice (see review). The most recent recording features the rising mezzo star Elina Garanca as Rosina and two other rising stars as Almaviva and Figaro (see review).
Robert J Farr


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