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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia, melodramma buffa in two acts (1816)
Count Almaviva, in love with Rosina - Taylor Stayton (tenor), Figaro, a barber and general factotum - Bj÷rn BŘrge (baritone), Bartolo, a doctor and ward of Rosina - Alessandro Corbelli (buffo baritone), Rosina - Danielle de Niese (soprano), Basilio, a singing teacher - Christophoros Stamboglis (bass), Berta, Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper - Janis Kelly (soprano), Fiorello, servant of Count Almaviva - Huw Montague Rendall (baritone)
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus/Enrique Mazzola
Annabel Arden (Stage Director), Joanna Parker (Set Designer), Franšois Roussillon (Video Director)
rec. 2016
Sound formats: stereo, surround sound, Dolby Digital, Dolby 2.0. Picture format: 16:9.
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, French, German, Spanish and Korean.
OPUS ARTE DVD OA1238D [172 mins]

When Rossini visited Beethoven during the season of his works in Vienna in 1822, the great composer entreated him only to write comic operas like Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This production celebrated the two-hundredth anniversary of the first production. More recordings of the work have been made and issued than any other of Rossini’s works. Some singers have made a good living out of their command of one of the roles, and many productions have been popular hits with the public. Whether this bicentennial production by Elisabeth Arden will join their number, I have serious doubts. She follows the prevailing fashion for updating the action without revealing any particular new insights whilst often, I suggest, managing to grate on many nerves that have seen matters better done. Judging from the costumes, she sets the work somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century. This enables Danielle de Niese’s delightful appearance in a variety of off-the-shoulder costumes that display the singer’s elegant shoulders to advantage! The set is indeterminate as to period, often semi-abstract and leaving little impression. Further clutter, of little gainful function, comes from three actors-cum-dancers, who prance about and get in the way from time to time. The scene of the storm in act two is a non-event, the likes of which I have never seen so poorly done before.

The opera has seen and survived more mediocre and idiosyncratic productions than this. Indeed, whilst Il Barbiere di Siviglia is the only Rossini opera never to be out of the repertoire for the whole of its life, it first night, something of a fiasco, did not promise longevity. Rossini composed in haste, having two new productions on his hands while absent from Naples, and having just finished Torvaldo e Dorliska to open the carnival season at the Teatro Valle, Rome, on December 26th. He had signed a contract to write, for the rival Teatro de Torre Argentina, a comic opera to be presented during its Carnival Season and to be delivered by mid January! It was decided that the opera would be based on Beaumarchais’play Le Barbier de SÚville. This posed a difficulty for Rossini in that Paisiello had set an opera by the same name in 1782; both it and the composer were greatly respected. Rossini moved to ensure that Paisiello took no offence. The opera was presented as Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione, the useless precaution, a phrase used in the libretto. 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. The cast and supporters walked to Rossini’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.

In this performance, the conductor proceeds with undue haste in parts of the first act in particular. That is a disadvantage for Bj÷rn BŘrge’s Figaro as he advertises his versatility. His singing, however, survives and he gives, with his light and flexible baritone, a well-acted and well-sung interpretation. Christophoros Stamboglis, as the proper music teacher of Rosina, acts and sings with significant expression and vocal sonority. He far outstrips the vocal efforts of Alessandro Corbelli as Rosina’s ward-cum-suitor. Corbelli has so many ticks and faces for this role, which he has sung many, many, times. It is with regret I note that his vocal ability is now in decline. His singing is not a patch on his performance under Pappano alongside Florez and DiDonato on Virgin (review), a performance only limited by the mezzo having to use a wheelchair after a bad fall earlier. Her adversity brings out the team effort of colleagues without affecting her singing. I suspect some of the faces Corbelli pulls in this performance, and his many little side tricks, owe nothing to Annabel Arden. Janis Kelly as Bartolo’s housekeeper is also inclined to overdo the acting as she strides around in her aria (chapter 24).

The two lovers, Almaviva and Rosina, also deliver mixed news. The singers’ task is complicated by additions and deletions to the score. He is tall and graceful in his acting. He sings with vocal fluency and heady tone, as if to make me regret that he is deprived of the role’s tenor tour de force that concludes the opera and which a certain Diego Florez does so well on the Virgin issue. Is this excision because of the inclusion of an extra aria for Rosina, written for a later performance elsewhere (chapter 25)? Inevitably, I come to Danielle de Niese’s singing and acted interpretation. Of course, it must be first recognized that the role better suits a mezzo than a soprano, albeit there is more colour in the lower tones of her voice than a year or so back, and she uses them well. As a display, her singing of the act one cavatina Una voce poca fa is light, as we might expect, and not helped by the setting. At the end of the day it is her that many come to see. She certainly has stage appeal, as is evident whenever she is on stage—despite her vocal limitations, not least in that interpolated aria referred to.

The booklet has an introductory interview with Cori Ellison, dramaturge at Glyndebourne, to mark this first new production of the work there in thirty-five years. There is also an extended essay by Nicholas Till, Professor of Opera Theatre at the University of Sussex, and a synopsis of each act. All the foregoing texts are in English, German and French, alongside some colour photographs. There is, however, no list of chapters: a serious omission, I suggest, for those unused to the plot and sung sequences. There is an extended bonus of a dialogue between the conductor and Danielle de Niese, including sequences from the performance, which would have been considerably enhanced had titles been added.

Robert J. Farr



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