Superb singing in the Royal Opera’s revival of Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’
“Give us plenty of Barbers.” So said Beethoven (aged 51) to Rossini (aged 30) when the two met in Vienna in 1822. At the time he composed Il Barbiere di Seviglia, six years earlier, Rossini had also recently produced an opera on the English Queen Elizabeth I, and later in the year would write his Otello, both serious works. But posterity agrees with Beethoven.
The opera buffa was Rossini’s true metier, and the public everywhere has never shown any sign of wavering in their allegiance to his comic masterpiece. It enjoys the most satisfactory libretto that the composer ever set to music, based on Beaumarchais’ Le Barbier de Séville. This play, interspersed with music, provided Rossini’s librettist Sterbini with a wonderful plot to follow, and he responded brilliantly, turning it into witty Italian verse, the calumny aria being a fine example.
On the opening night of a new run at the Royal Opera, this insidious song by Rosina’s singing teacher Don Basilio began more slowly than usual in the orchestra, but gradually speeded up and ended with Bryn Terfel (as Basilio) standing precariously on the arms of the chair in which Rosina’s guardian Dr Bartolo had been sitting when he started. Terfel as usual made the most of his role without in any way overshadowing the rest of the excellent cast, all of whom sang superbly with frequent vocal flourishes. As Rosina herself, the Russian soprano (and ex-Royal Opera Young Artist) Aigul Akhmetshina was a delight, wooing the audience with her una voce poco fa, and as her impecunious paramour, who later turns out to be the young and amorous Count Almaviva, we had a true Rossinian tenor in the American singer Lawrence Brownlee.
As the Barber himself, Polish bass Andrzej Filonczyk sang a lively Figaro, beginning with a wonderfully fast largo al factotum, describing the busy exigencies of his trade, and helping Rosina outwit the eagle eye of Fabio Capitanucci as Dr Bartolo. With Ailish Tynan as Berta, the old governess in Bartolo’s house making a witty complaint about the frenzy of young love, and young Korean bass Josef Jeongmeen Ahn as Almaviva’s servant Fiorello, this cast was as vocally perfect as one could wish, and the musical direction by the young Argentinian conductor Rafael Payare was terrific. Indeed the audience burst into spontaneous applause after the overture alone.
The team of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier returned to the House to direct this revival of their 2005 production, which allowed them licence to make some alterations. It is a staging with clean lines and bright colours to charm the eye, and the lighting is superb. The overturning of furniture and damage to the piano in Rosina’s sudden fury, when she believes Bartolo’s claim that her lover was sent to trap her into marriage with that bogeyman Count Almaviva, dealt us a terrific scene. A more musical and beautifully performed Barber would be hard to find. The audience loved it.
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