Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia - Melodramma Buffa in two
Count Almaviva, in love with Rosina – Dmitry Korchak (tenor); Figaro,
a barber and general factotum, Luca Salsi (baritone); Bartolo, a
doctor and ward of Rosina - Bruno Praticò (buffa baritone); Rosina,
ward of Bartolo – Ketevan Kemoklidze (mezzo); Basilio, a singing
teacher - Giovanni Furlanetto (bass); Berta, Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper
– Natalia Roman (soprano); Fiorello, servant of Count Almaviva –
Noris Borgogelli (baritone)
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Reggio di Parma/Andrea Battistoni
rec. live, Teatro Regio di Parma, 2011
Stage Director: Stefano Vizioli; Set Designer: Francesco Calcagnini;
Television Director: Daniela Vismara
Sound formats: PCM Stereo, dts-HD Master Audio 5.1;
Picture Format: 16:9. Resolution 1081i HD
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, French, German,
108 042 [170:00]
First night disasters in the history of opera are numerous. Causes usually involved an aspect of performance, production, inappropriate singers or inadequacy of composition. La Traviata, Madama Butterfly and Beethoven’s Leonora spring to mind. Except in Beethoven’s case, which took ten years and radical revision, minor compositional adjustments, or a more appropriate cast and the disaster was turned to triumph. However, there were a few occasions when the derision of the first night was quickly reversed without recourse to changes in the music or the cast. Such was the case with Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.
Rossini’s paramount position among fellow Italians led to his being appointed Musical Director of the Royal Theatres in Naples. It was in Naples, with the professional orchestra of the San Carlo theatre, that Rossini composed his great opera seria, starting with Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra, premiered on 4 October 1815. A clause in his contract at Naples allowed Rossini to accept odd commissions from other theatres. It was a clause that Rossini took much advantage of, certainly stretching it beyond the limits the impresario Barbarja had intended when he brought the composer to Naples. In the first two years of this contract Rossini composed no fewer than five operas for other cities, including four for Rome.
The first of the Rome operas was Torvaldo e Dorliska. It opened the Carnival Season at the Teatro Valle on 26 December 1815. Two weeks previously Rossini signed another contract with the rival Teatro de Torre Argentina in the city for a comic opera to be presented during its Carnival Season and to be delivered by mid-January! Quick composition was the order of the day. With time short it was decided that it would be based on Beaumarchais’s play Le Barbier de Séville. For Rossini this posed a difficulty in that Paisiello had set an opera by the same name in 1782 and both it, and the composer, were greatly respected. Rossini moved to ensure Paisiello took no personal offence with his younger colleague and the opera was presented as Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (The Useless Precaution) with the sequence of scenes distinctly different from Paisiello’s creation. Despite Rossini’s efforts Paisiello’s supporters created a disturbance on the first night and turned it into a fiasco. On the second night Rossini was tactfully ill and did not attend the theatre, as stipulated in his contract. The performance was an unprecedented success after which the cast and supporters walked to the composer’s lodgings carrying candles and singing tunes from the opera. After its initial seven performances in Rome the opera began to be called Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It was soon performed as such around Italy and reached London in March 1818 and New York the following year. It is the only opera by Rossini to have maintained its place in the repertoire in the theatres of Italy, and elsewhere around the world, throughout its life. When, during the Vienna season of his operas in 1822, Rossini visited Beethoven, the great man said to the Italian maestro of this opera “I congratulate you … it will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa.”
In view of the fact that the libretto, as well as the music, were assembled in little over a month it is hardly surprising that Rossini indulged in some self-borrowings. The overture was that previously used for Aureliano in Palmira in 1813, and re-used with heavier orchestration for his first Naples opera, Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra. Similarly the storm scene of act 2 (CH.42) was first heard in La Pietra del paragone (1812) and subsequently in L’Occasione fe il ladro in September and November of 1812 at Venice’s San Moisé and La Scala respectively. Elsewhere in Il Barbiere Rossini developed and extended tuneful lines from earlier works into full-blown arias and duets.
Il Barbiere di Siviglia is core repertory. It is as good a work as any for an opera house and its recently appointed principal guest conductor, the twenty four year old Andrea Battistoni, to get their teeth into. However, it could have been a gamble with the audiences at Parma considered the most discerning in all Italy where the benchmark for singers is set traditionally high. The audience are also intimately familiar with the works of their favourites, from Rossini to Puccini, and know every tricky corner by heart; wacky productions are not on the agenda. Parma is also the homeland of Verdi. In his autobiography, Peter Glossop (The Story of a Yorkshire Baritone, Guidon, 2004) the great English baritone, notes that it is considered a Lion’s Den for singers not vocally at the top of their game.
This production uses a basic set of Bartolo’s house as its main feature. The opening has its front façade covered in a sheet as Almaviva and his helpers come to serenade Rosina (CH.3). The sheet drops to reveal a balcony onto which Rosina later appears (CH.10). This façade also opens down the middle for the inside of Bartolo’s house, with singers moving various props as required; it is quite an ingenious use of the space of what seems a relatively small stage. Creative use of purple lighting does from time to time restrict the clarity of the picture (CH.43). The scene where Figaro and Almaviva come to rescue Rosina via the placement of a ladder is over-imaginative (CH.42) as are the rotating music sheets at the end of act one (CH.26-28). That said, such minor over-indulgences allied to the use, as here, of period costumes are preferable to the minimalism, updating and Regietheater currently widely prevalent north of the Alps.
The young conductor moves the music on swiftly - sometimes to excess - with a lack of well-sprung rhythms and élan evident from time to time. The baritone Luca Salsi, who is heard in America as well as Italy, sings the eponymous barber. I find his acting rather stiff and mechanical. Whilst he is vocally strong-toned and secure his lack of variation of colour, modulation and sparkle, particularly in Figaro’s factotum (CH.8), is ultimately deadening. A pleasant surprise is Dmitry Korchak as Almaviva. His light tenor voice, which he uses with sensitivity, is a joy. I am pleased to report he really gets the second act aria Cessa di piu resistere (CH.47); it’s less likely to be cut since Florez hit the boards. Here it is sung with good shape, tone and flexibility. A further virtue is that he and the director do not overdo the drunken soldier episode. If Ketevan Kemoklidze as Rosina does not quite match him in her big aria Una voce poca fa (CH.16), her upper register being a little thin, elsewhere her acting and creamy-toned singing are welcome. Bruno Praticò repeats his by now well-known Bartolo with a voice that has become rather dry-toned. At least he plays the role and creates a character. This is more than can be said of Giovanni Furlanetto’s Basilio. He is nondescript vocally with La calunnia (CH.19) going for nothing. Also, his costume is far too sartorially elegant for a supposedly seedy and easily bribed music-master.
Competition is harsh in this opera. Despite it featuring an injured Rosina, the Covent Garden performance under Pappano is altogether better sung, not least by Ferruccio Furlanetto; the surname might be the same but vocally and artistically the Covent Garden one is in an altogether superior league (see review). Whilst not available on Blu-Ray it comes at around half the price. Despite the criticisms made, if I came across this Parma performance in a British regional theatre I would be happy to sit through it and applaud at the end. Rossini’s buffa masterpiece, as Beethoven recognised, is evergreen.
Robert J Farr