Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Jonathan Miller’s “Così” strikes gold again

When did “concept” become a dirty word? In the world of opera, the rot set in innocently, gradually.

Tucson Desert Song Festival Presents Artists from the Met and Arizona Opera

The Tucson Desert Song Festival consists of three weekends of vocal music in orchestral, chamber, choral, and solo formats along with related lectures and master classes.

The Schumanns at home: Temple Song 2018

Following their marriage, on 12th September 1840, Robert and Clara Schumann made their home in a first-floor apartment on the piano nobile of a classical-style residence now known as the Schumann House, on Inselstraße, just a short walk from the centre of Leipzig.

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Announces 2018 Jette Parker Young Artists

The Royal Opera House has announced the five singers who will join the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in September, selected from more than 440 applicants from 59 countries.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Joyce DiDonato as Rosina [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
14 Jul 2009

Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Covent Garden

Music-masters, singing lessons and serenading bands all abound in Rossini’s comic masterpiece, Il Barbiere di Sivilglia, but at this performance it was the medical rather than the musical puns which drew the loudest laughs.

Gioachino Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Figaro: Pietro Spagnoli; Rosina: Joyce DiDonato; Count Almaviva: Juan Diego Flórez / Colin Lee; Doctor Bartolo: Alessandro Corbelli; Don Basilio: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Fiorello: Changhan Lim; Berta: Jennifer Rhys-Davies. Conductor:Paul Wynne Griffiths / Antonio Pappano. Director: Patrice Caurier / Moshe Leiser. Set Designs: Christian Fenouillat. Costume Designs: Agostino Cavalca. Lighting: Christophe Forey.

Above: Joyce DiDonato as Rosina

Except as indicated, all photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

With the characters afflicted by ‘anvil-hammer headaches’, scarlet fever and debilitating foot cramps, we were reminded that Bartolo is in fact an ‘esteemed’ doctor and that Figaro lists ‘surgeon’ as one of his skills. Indeed, it seemed that Bartolo was right when he complained that Figaro was turning ‘this house into a hospital’ — not least because the prima donna, Rosina, was wheelchair-bound throughout.

This was not, however, a quirky directorial whim of the kind that 21st-century audiences have become all too familiar with. There cannot be many Rosinas who would willingly elect to tackle the substantial challenges of the role from this confining position, but there was little choice for the American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato who, having continued valiantly after slipping on the opening night, subsequently discovered that she had in fact fractured her fibia. Forbidden to put any weight on her plaster-encased leg, DiDonato must have been in considerable discomfort, if not pain, and the audience whole-heartedly appreciated her determination to continue in the role, welcoming her first stage entry with a rapturous outburst of grateful applause.

BC200907020779.gifPietro Spagnoli as Figaro and Alessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo

If she was physically incapacitated, DiDonato was in no way vocally, musically or dramatically hampered. This was an outstanding - and given the circumstances, astonishing — performance. Capricious and independent throughout, she overcame the physical restrictions imposed on her, offering a consummate display of coloratura singing and acting with panache and verve. DiDonata’s technical mastery is accompanied by innate musicality and powers of communication: she manages to make Rossini’s idiosyncratic twists, leaps, stutters and dynamic dips sound both effortless — in ‘Dunque io son’ she dazzled with a thrilling sparkle of a trill — and genuine.

Paradoxically, she used her injury to superb dramatic effect. Trapped both figuratively and literally, DiDonato presented a poignant picture of innocent vulnerability, threatened by a domineering tyrant; but simultaneously she twisted, pouted, whizzed from left to right, swung her undamaged legs and flailed her arms, allowing the petulance and feistiness of the ‘real’ Rosina to shine through.

BC200907010770.gifJennifer Rhys-Davies as Berta, Juan Diego Flórez as Count Almaviva and Joyce Didonato as Rosina

DiDonato was partnered by a fine cast of principals. From the moment he leapt onto the stage with a knowing nod and grin, after striding masterfully through the surprised audience, Pietro Spagnoli’s Figaro held the attention of all. This was a Figaro of enterprise, boundless energy and optimism, and the sprightliness of Spagnoli’s stage presence was matched by the vigour and meatiness of his singing. He relished the tongue-twisting patter and demonstrated a rich, deep warmth when offering a supporting shoulder to the pair of thwarted lovers. Standing in for Simon Keenlyside, this was Spagnoli’s Covent Garden debut — and on this evidence he should be back soon.

2009_ndg_0103(C)NEIL-GILLES.gifJoyce DiDonato as Rosina [Photo by Neil Gillespie courtesy of The Royal Opera House]

One pities Colin Lee, sharing the role of Count Almaviva with no less a stellar light than Juan Diego Flórez, whose effortless dispatch of the fiendish coloratura in the closing scene nearly brought the house to a standstill on the opening night of the run. Understandably perhaps, Lee seemed nervous at the start, as he strove to over-colour the words in his opening ‘Ecco ridente’, worthily emphasising the pain of unrequited love but producing an ugly, strained timbre in the process. Fortunately he became progressively more relaxed, and a legato tenderness and more subtlety of tone characterised his performance subsequently. More comfortable with his disguise as the spineless music teacher, Alonso, than as the drunken soldier who blunders his way into Bartolo’s house, in Act 2 Lee settled into the role, and in ‘Cessa di piu resistere’ he demonstrated a beautiful tenore di grazia, lightly presenting the vocal flourishes and singing with a joyful delicacy at the top of his register, with no sense of strain.

He was often criticised for creating emotionless characters, and it is true that many of Rossini’s principal roles here are simply caricatures. Nevertheless, Alessandro Corbelli warmed up nicely as the egotistical, domineering Dr Bartolo, producing some wonderful comic timing. His acting prowess was matched by Feruccio Furlanetto, as the unctuous, despicable Basilio. Furlanetto’s massive bass resonated with menace and evil intent. Indeed, in his calumny aria, he so revelled in the salacious, almost hysterical, delight he gained from his plans to slander Almaviva, that he came a little adrift from Pappano’s tempo, in one of the rare moments of shaky ensemble between stage and pit.

BC200907021080.gifAlessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo, Joyce Didonato as Rosina, Pietro Spagnoli as Figaro, Jennifer Rhys-Davies as Berta, (Back Row) Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio, and The Royal Opera Chorus as Police

The smaller roles were also strongly cast. Jennifer Rhys-Davies presented a well-conceived Berta, singing with a verve and confidence which were equalled by Korean baritone, Changhan Lim, a Jette Young Artist, who showed much promise as Fiorello.

It was a minor flaw of this starry production that occasionally the zany design of this revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s wacky 2005 staging (with slight adaptations to accommodate DiDonato’s new mode of locomotion) threatened to upstage the singing. Leiser and Caurier’s long-term collaborators, Christian Fenouillat and Agostino Cavalca did not fail to exaggerate every comic moment. The pastel-box set with its web of sliding panels, trap doors and concealed windows certainly conveyed Rosina’s entrapment, but the garish, postmodern lines and dots and pantomimesque costumes — the nadir was reached when the police arrived sporting white, plastic helmets and black PVC capes — were cheap and nasty. The closing picture of red, heart-shaped balloons floating aloft was pure Eurotrash.

This is an undoubtedly funny production, but the directors over-play Rossini’s subtle side-swipes at theatricality and operatic conventions. In particular, the end of Act 1 was distinctly bewildering: the stage tilted and rocked from side to side, escape routes disappeared, as the ‘dazed and confused’ cast clutched their heads in uniform agony. Even Pappano, elsewhere so sure and in command at the podium or harpsichord, struggled to maintain the dramatic and musical momentum as the entire cast wobbled and staggered like a ship in danger of sinking.

Fortunately Antonio Pappano ensured that Rossini’s music retained prime position. From the crisp rhythms and tight runs of the overture, it was clear that the ROH band were once again on sparkling form. Pappano coaxed fresh colours from this well-known score and reinvigorated familiar rhythms with spontaneity. This operatic ‘old friend’ can certainly still astonish and impress.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):