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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Barbiere di Siviglia [176:00]
Count Almaviva - Juan Diego Flórez (tenor)
Rosina - Joyce DiDonato (mezzo)
Figaro - Pietro Spagnoli (baritone)
Doctor Bartolo - Alessandro Corbelli (bass)
Don Basilio - Feruccio Furlanetto (bass)
Berta - Jennifer Rhys-Davies (mezzo)
Fiorello - Changhan Lim (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano (also harpsichord)
Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier (stage directors)
rec. live, Royal Opera House, 7 July 2009.
Aspect Ratio 16:9, LPCM Stereo and DTS Surround
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6945819 [2 DVDs: 102:00 + 74:00]

Experience Classicsonline

This sparkling performance is an absolute delight and for many will prove to be a first choice for this popular work. I was lucky enough to be in the theatre on the night this was recorded - originally for cinema transmission. Watching it brought back to me just what a magical night it was, all the more so for the fact that it almost didn’t happen. This was the second night of the run and on the first Joyce DiDonato had suffered a bad fall, breaking a bone in her foot. To her credit she was still determined to sing and in the end decided that doing it in a wheelchair was the best option. Pappano came out front-of-curtain before the overture, something the DVD has kept in, and explained the situation, adding that he couldn’t wait to see how it all worked out! The sheer sense of the unexpected and the unpredictable helped to spark a very special theatrical occasion that night, nowhere more so than the moment in the second act when Rosina complains of a cramp in her foot; this DVD captures the atmosphere brilliantly. The wheelchair itself is certainly daft and it would have been better without it, but you’ll probably find that you stop noticing it after a while. Anyway, DiDonato herself said that it helped her to identify more with just how frustrated and trapped Rosina felt and that consequently it was an aid to getting deeper inside the role. Hmm, maybe ...
The chief joy of this set is the singing which is absolutely first rate from everyone involved. Miraculously, the wheelchair doesn’t seem to have restricted DiDonato’s singing apparatus and she is on thrilling form all night. Una voce poca fa has fantastic coloratura and razor-sharp top notes. Her vocal technique is even more thrilling in the lesson scene: both bring the house down, and rightly so. She seems to thrive on a massive wave of goodwill emanating from the audience and it inspires her to reach fantastic heights. Even more thrilling, however, is the miraculous Almaviva of Juan Diego Flórez whom I have never heard sounding finer than here. I remember thinking at the time that there must surely never have been a Rossini tenor as fine as him, not even in the composer’s own day, though we’ll never know for sure. His voice juggles strength and lightness, sweetness and power, and fantastic vocal acrobatics all built on the foundations of phenomenal breath control. Ecco ridente by itself is enough to bring the house down, full of fantastic ornamentations, roulades and leaps. His final bravura aria, Cessa di piu resistere, will knock your socks off. Furthermore he has great personal chemistry with all of his colleagues, most importantly with DiDonato herself. They strike sparks off each other in the lesson scene and together show a great gift for comic timing. Theirs is one of the great partnerships of contemporary opera and we are blessed indeed to have it preserved here.
Pietro Spagnoli’s Figaro is full of joie de vivre, his ebullient entrance aria setting the tone for an evening of great humour captured within a voice of strength, character and endless vocal character. Alessandro Corbelli reinforces his reputation as one of the finest buffo basses we have, managing to be comic and serious at the same time. His Bartolo is funny but also a frustrated, almost sympathetic old man, full of character but never a caricature. Furlanetto is a thunderous Don Basilio. His calumny aria makes the house shake and he loves hamming up the eccentricities while bringing a comic seriousness to the role. Similarly Jennifer Rhys-Davies manages both pathos and humour in Berta’s well sung aria.
The production itself is a riot of primary colours and excellent good humour. The somewhat abstract set allows alcoves and entrances to appear and disappear at will in true buffo style. It has a remarkable capacity to rise off the ground and rock around during the “confusion” finale of Act 1. Only the storm scene looks a bit daft: originally Rosina was meant to smash up the set to vent her rage. DiDonato’s injury makes this impossible so, in a gesture of female solidarity, Berta does it for her.
Underpinning all of the entertainment is the musical anchor of Pappano’s direction. This was his first Barber but he sounds as though he has been conducting the score his whole life, showing an unerring sense of timing in the recitatives and excellent pacing through the all-important crescendos. The playing of his orchestra is top notch and he has them eating out of his hand.
The picture is clear with perfectly judged camera angles and the surround sound is remarkably true to life. The DVDs also include extra interview features with Flórez, DiDonato, Pappano and the directors. For once these are genuinely informative and interesting, though Leiser and Caurier go on a bit. This DVD gets a big thumbs-up on every front and merits the highest enthusiasm.
Simon Thompson



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