Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Barbiere di Siviglia - melodrama buffa in two acts (1816)
Critical edition edited by Patricia B. Brauner
Fiorello: Changhan Lim
Count Almaviva: Juan Diego Flórez
Figaro: Pietro Spagnoli
Rosina: Joyce DiDonato
Doctor Bartolo: Alessandro Corbelli
Don Basilio: Ferruccio Furlanetto
Berta: Jennifer Rhys-Davies
Ambrogio: Bryan Secombe
Officer: Christopher Lackner
Notary: Andrew Macnair
Royal Opera Chorus/Renato Balsadonna
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano (harpsichord)
Stage Directors: Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier
Set Design: Christian Fenouillat
Costume Design: Agostino Cavalca
Lighting Design: Christophe Forey
Video Direction: David Stevens
rec. live, July 2009, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
High Definition 1080/60p - 16.9
Format: NTSC
Region code: 0 worldwide
Sung in Italian - Subtitles: EN/FR/GER/SP/IT
Sound formats:
a) LPCM Stereo 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit
b) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz
Bonus footage: interviews with conductor, main cast and directors.
Introduction by Joyce DiDonato [10.01]
Interviews with: Joyce DiDonato [6.24]; Juan Diego Flórez [8.16]; Antonio Pappano [9.19]; Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier [14.14]
ERATO Blu-ray 2564 605529 [176.00 + 48.00 bonus]

Stage directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier produced this Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2005. Only Joyce DiDonato remains from the principal roles for this ROH revival. Certainly a vastly experienced cast has been assembled as both Flórez and DiDonato have played these roles at world renowned opera houses from early in their careers. There are clips on You Tube of Flórez singing Almaviva in 1999 at the Vienna State Opera and at La Scala, Milan and DiDonato singing Rosina at the Paris Opera in 2002. Baritone Alessandro Corbelli is an experienced Doctor Bartolo, as is bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio. Figaro is a signature role of baritone Pietro Spagnoli.

Clearly the main talking point surrounding this ROH production concerns the opening night on Saturday 4 July 2009 when DiDonato fell on stage and managed to continue using a crutch. Prior to the curtain-up on this video recording Antonio Pappano mounts the stage and addresses the audience explaining that DiDonato actually broke her fibula which is now in a plaster cast and will be performing from a light-weight wheelchair. Perform she does, wheeling herself up and down from a narrow gangway at the front of the set. Tongue-in-cheek DiDonato explained “Being trapped in the wheelchair was a quite literal way of demonstrating Rosina's huge desire to break free.”

Now one of the most popular operas a mainstay of the repertoire Barbiere managed to survive a disastrous opening night in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, Rome. In addition to being radical for an audience of the day much also went awry on-stage resulting in booing and hissing from a section of the audience. There was already an established opera by the celebrated Giovanni Paisiello titled Il barbiere di Siviglia based on the same Pierre Beaumarchais play used by Rossini and his librettist Cesare Sterbini. As a gesture of respect for Paisiello for a time Rossini and Sterbini used the different title Almaviva: L'Inutile Precauzione (Almaviva: The Useless Precaution).

Compared to many past stagings the set design by Christian Fenouillat is relatively sparse. Initially we see a tree silhouetted against a vivid blue evening sky complete with a crescent moon. Mainly the set consists of pastel striped wallpaper taking on a post-modern theme and creating a rather dreamlike scene. Its unfussy quality enables additional focus on the shrewd costuming strikingly designed by Agostino Cavalca who has dressed the cast in three ways. Almaviva, Doctor Bartolo and Don Basilio are robed in flamboyant clothing of the period, namely ruffled shirts and frock coats. In comedy dress are Figaro, Berta and Ambrogio while the male chorus is portrayed as a group of musicians decked in dinner suits and later on as slapstick policemen in light blue with white webbing and helmets both complete with ridiculous false noses. Figaro is especially amusing in light blue denim bib and brace over a red and white striped tea shirt with his grey hair held in a red net. By contrast Rosina is in contemporary dress wearing a rose-coloured cropped cardigan, an apple green off-the-shoulder dress and a pink taped plaster cast.

Vocally outstanding as Count Almaviva is the bel canto master Flórez, clearly relishing the role of the lovesick and irrepressible nobleman with a penchant for disguise. Such a natural on stage it looks like the Peruvian is having a ball opposite Joyce DiDonato. Right from the start Almaviva, disguised as Lindoro the hard-up student, up the tree serenading Rosina with his cavatina Ecco, ridente in cielo in impressive voice so early in the opera. Best of all the testing showpiece aria with cabaletta Cessa di più resistere has Flórez holding the stage revealing fiery expression and displaying cultured and effective coloratura. When not in disguise my main image of the flamboyant Almaviva is of him wearing a red frock coat with gold brocade over an orange ruffle shirt and brown knee high boots.

DiDonato allows her jubilant artistry to shine through like a beacon giving a remarkable performance as Rosina. Rather than let reduced mobility confine her it serves to liberate the American mezzo-soprano. Coming across as a feisty minx yet girlishly vulnerable by turns DiDonato has the measure of the role. This is particularly the case with the heroine’s cavatina Una voce poco fa which is engaging and so impressively projected. The coloratura demands at the conclusion are displayed with vivacity and plenty of style and DiDonato still has the energy to throw four darts into the back wall singing that she has a thousand tricks to play; the audience can be heard roaring with delight. Some may find DiDonato’s coloratura a touch harsh but I admire her individuality and wince at the thought of a standardised technique.

Spagnoli makes a masculine Figaro who despite all the muscles gives an appropriate soft, affectionate heart to the title role of the lovable rogue with fingers in lots of pies. Figaro’s famous challenging entrance aria Largo al factotum is suitably enlivening with noticeably excellent control throughout especially in the exceptionally quick section. How favourably the audience responds.

Don Basilio, Rosina’s music teacher played by Furlanetto looks more like a Halloween ghoul with his long black cassock, clerical collar, skull cap and quite ridiculously long straggly hair. Furlanetto demonstrates his rich, resonant bass to significant effect in Basilio’s celebrated aria La calunnia relating how he can spread rumours about the Count. Compliments to the committed Furlanetto for his athleticism as during his aria he even clambers over the seated Bartolo, finally standing on the arms of the chair.

Revelling in the comedy role Corbelli is impressive as the crotchety yet shrewd old bachelor Doctor Bartolo giving a splendidly characterised performance; so well observed. Eye-catching is the vivid green pinstripe suit resplendent with bronze waistcoat and spats that the dapper Bartolo is wearing together with a ludicrous comb-over hair style. Long and demanding, Bartolo’s aria A un dottor della mia sorte is given with all of Corbelli’s vocal and interpretative skills; in particular his innate feel for comedy.

In the minor parts I especially enjoyed Jennifer Rhys-Davies as the governess Berta in her bold check orange and maroon dress complete with jet black hair and big red nose. Much laughter from the audience when alone in the room Berta reaches into a cupboard and surreptitiously swigs from a bottle of booze. Well received is her aria Il vecchiotto cerca moglie which is a real hoot and sung with commitment. Later on Berta demonstrates her frustration by pushing over the harpsichord and trashing the room. Pappano is in the pit directing his players from the harpsichord with his usual verve and deep understanding. Clearly well drilled the choral contributions too are bright and dramatic.

Recorded live in 2009 David Stevens has made a splendid job of his video direction keeping the cameras busy with lots of different shots and what feels like just the right number of close-ups. On my Blu-Ray disc the high definition picture and sound quality are first class; there are also stereo and surround sound options. The bonus footage consisting of an introduction and series of interviews is better than the average of such content being interesting and reasonably informative.

Featuring Juan Diego Flórez and Joyce DiDonato this is a Barbiere to savour, eminently enjoyable from start to finish.

Michael Cookson

Previous reviews (DVD): Robert Farr and Simon Thompson

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