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