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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Above: Joyce DiDonato as Rosina [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
13 Oct 2009

Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the MET

Bartlett Sher’s production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia has proved one of the more admired stagings of the Peter Gelb regime, but I’ve avoided it due to a surfeit of Barbieres and to fond memories of the John Cox production on Robin Wagner’s delicious turntable set, about as ideal a Barbiere as could be imagined.

Gioachino Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Rosina: Joyce Di Donato; Almaviva: Barry Banks; Figaro: Rodion Pogossov; Dr. Bartolo: John Del Carlo; Don Basilio: Orlin Anastassov; Berta: Claudia Waite. Conducted by Maurizio Benini. Metropolitan Opera, performance of October 8.

Above: Joyce DiDonato as Rosina

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]

 

The complicated story was told clearly, the stage pictures were handsome and the set changes elegant, the funny business funny and to the point, the movement rapid. Even Rossini’s thunderstorm got laughs, as a projected starry sky was gradually effaced by clouds and real rain while the set spun around below. I wasn’t crazy about the barber’s updated costume and I could have done without the donkey — the donkey is the one item Mr. Sher retained. Figaro’s costume is back to tradition.

The Sher production does not get in the way of the storytelling (a major point! especially in a comic opera), does not introduce new sub-plots the composer never delineated (a defect of the recent stagings of Tosca, Sonnambula and Fidelio, among others), the stage pictures are attractive and will endure repeated viewing (unlike Tosca), the funny business is sometimes funny — and gives scope, as a comedy staging should, for funny performers to make it more so; there are inexplicable touches (what is that giant anvil in the sky, aside from a sign of Mr. Sher out of ideas? Why does Bartolo’s china closet explode?), and the movement is constant if not always logical. Seville, indicated in the previous production by the city’s famous white walls and a splendid conservatory in the courtyard of Bartolo’s mansion, is now implied by many, many doors and an orangery. At one point, the Count, playing a drunken soldier, makes a swipe at an orange tree with his saber — and appeared to slice it through — the best laugh of the night. I’d give the production a solid B, maybe a B-plus.

The most distinctive part of the Sher staging — aside from the moveable doors that comprise most of the set, and which are often used to delightful farcical advantage — is the platform around the orchestra pit that allows singers to leave the action and come warble to us intimately, duck out of busy action entirely, complain about how badly they are being used by other characters — or hand out business cards to the audience, as Figaro does during the curtain calls. This parade in front of the apron also allows a solid but underpowered cast to make a more powerful effect than they would if they remained center stage. There was certainly an improvement in sound quality when they stepped forward.

Among the singers last Thursday night, the smoothest, most elegant, most satisfying performance came from Bulgarian newcomer Orlin Anastassov, who possesses the requisite size, depth and legato for Don Basilio and is an amusing comic actor to boot. It is no surprise to see in the program that he is singing Boito’s Mefistofele elsewhere this year — that’s an opera that the Met could certainly use back in its repertory, and he’s a likely candidate to put over a role that calls for an agile actor as well as a remarkable voice.

BARBIERE_DiDonato_and_Banks.gifJoyce DiDonato as Rosina and Barry Banks as Count Almaviva

Rodion Pogossov, a showman of great charm and comic energy — you may well remember his Papageno — sang a most entertaining Figaro, with a seductive and self-seductive way of phrasing. John Del Carlo, a familiar and excellent buffo quantity, fudged the racing patter of “A un dottore del mio sorte,” as so many Doctor Bartolos do, but proved an effective foil for the antics of all the others throughout the evening. You can’t have a farce if the villain isn’t convincingly alarming — if he’s not, nobody else’s antics make sense. Del Carlo, tall as a Wagnerian giant, can be alarming while full of self-pity, which is just what we want.

Barry Banks is a comic actor the equal of any bel canto tenor going — his smarmy smiles as the feigned “Don Alfonso” were especial joys — and his coloratura technique is remarkable, but the quality of the voice itself was dry in “Ecco ridente” and rather hollow the rest of the night. Dramatic intensity (as Oreste in Rossini’s Ermione) and delirious self-parody (as Thisbe in Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream) are his fortes; romantic heroes are not.

BARBIERE_DiDonato_and_Pogos.gifJoyce DiDonato as Rosina and Rodion Pogossov as Figaro

Joyce Di Donato is a few years into an important career. She is an excellent comic actress — you listen to her, yes, but you also watch, just to see what madcap business she’ll come up with next. She works the manic fireworks of “Contro un cor” in the Lesson Scene into a simultaneous show of brilliant vocalism and stage hilarity like no other Rosina I’ve seen. When she dashes out on that walkway to deliver the evening’s few big phrases, her strong line suggests that many of the grander bel canto roles (Adalgisa, Elisabetta Tudor, La Favorite) would suit her nicely, but in some of her rapid-fire phrases in “Una voce poco fa” and elsewhere, she seemed too anxious to race up and down the scale to bother with the note-perfect ideal flow of a Horne, a Berganza or a Swenson. She seems to love to play this role and to be on stage with these other singers, but a little more technical focus (and you just know she could do it) would make hers an extraordinary Rosina instead of merely a very good one. Claudia Waite, the Berta, sang her “sherbet aria” with the shrill, ungrateful tone one expects of, well, Berta the laundress.

Maurizio Benini in the all but invisible orchestra pit kept the wheels turning precisely without calling attention to himself — it was not a Mozartean reading of the score but a reliable base for the farcical doings on stage. The whole evening seemed calculated in that direction, and it was gracious of him to be so self-effacing, but sometimes Rossini works well as a partnership.

John Yohalem

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):