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Gioacchino Rossini:Il Barbiere di Siviglia
21 Nov 2008

Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Opera House Zürich

This 2001 Zürich performance of Rossini's masterpiece Il Barbiere di Siviglia boasts one of the final performances of the great bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, who passed away in 2004.

Gioacchino Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Vesselina Kasarova, Manuel Lanza, Reinaldo Macias, Carlos Chausson, Orchestra and Choir Opera House Zurich. Nello Santi, conductor. Directed for stage by Grischa Asagaroff.

EuroArts 20 5124 9 [2DVDs]

$27.99  Click to buy

Don Basilio turns out to be a good fit for an artist once so formidable in the darker roles of the operatic literature. His late-career voice has a gruffness that lends itself well to caricature, which is about all this particular production seems suited for.

Luigi Perego designed, for director Grischa Asagaroff, a revolving platform of three sections, all built from oversized versions of a Spanish lady’s fan. Just to make sure we haven’t missed the point, the scrim is also in the shape of a fan. The time has been bumped up to the early-20th century, with Figaro arriving in a tandem motorcycle, and the men of the chorus apparently fresh from some sort of fashion show for hats: there are fedoras, berets, and Italian straw boaters. It is all considerably clever, fairly attractive - and ultimately, dramatically irrelevant. The entire production comes across as over-designed, over-directed, and under-inspired. Take a look at the Metropolitan Opera’s recent Barbiere, one of the productions from the first year of the movie theater filmcasts, to see a production with plenty of ideas that still manages to feel alive and fresh.

An able cast plays along, but no one really has the charisma to charge the evening with some excitement. Vesselina Kasarova sings a sexy Rosina, with smoothly purred low notes and creditable high ones. Despite being a very attractive lady, she is strangely uninvolving on stage. It doesn’t help matters that she has more spark with her Figaro, a decent Manual Lanza, than with her Almaviva, the bland Reinaldo Macias. At final curtain, Carlos Chausson earns a sizeable ovation to an audience grateful for his solid delivery of a comically wicked Bartolo, for once almost a creditable suitor for his ward Rosina.

But it is Elizabeth Rae Magnuson, as the put-upon maid-servant Berta, who stands out, appealing in her acting and singing with sweet clarity. If only conductor Nello Santi had conducted the music to her big number with a bit more urgency.

EuroArts stretches the opera onto two discs, probably unnecessarily. For once, the subtitles appear to be not only error-free, but admirably natural and communicative.

If OperaToday readers are looking for a contemporary version of Barbiere, once more, the recent Met version with Florez, Mattei, and Di Donato can be highly recommended.

Chris Mullins

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