Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Lucas Meachem as Figaro [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of the San Diego Opera]
07 May 2012

The Barber of Seville, San Diego

Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’ classic play The Barber of Seville, set by Rossini to perfectly paced and irresistibly comic music, was first performed in Rome in 1816, and remains one of the world’s favorite operas.

Gioachino Rossini: The Barber of Seville

Count Almaviva: John Osborn; Figaro: Lucas Meachem; Rosina: Silvia Tro Santafé; Dr. Bartolo: Carlos Chausson; Don Basilio: Alexander Vinogradov; Berta: Suzanna Guzmán. Conductor: Antonello Allemandi. Director: Herbert Kellner. Scenic Director:John Conklin. Costume Designer:Michael Stennett.

Above: Lucas Meachem as Figaro

Photos by Ken Howard courtesy of the San Diego Opera

 

In 2011 it was performed 440 times in 79 cities, a fact that would have pleased French writer Stendhal, author of a fascinating, though alas, inaccurate “biography” of Rossini. Charmed as Stendhal was by the “whipped cream and fanfaronades” of Rossini’s operas, he is said to have worried about what would happen to The Barber when it was as old as Don Giovanni.

But there we were, nearly two hundred years later, sitting in the San Diego Civic Center, still being charmed by Rossini’s “whipped cream and fanfaronades”, though now decked out with twenty-first century gags, pranks, and production techniques. The San Diego production, created by John Copley in1989 for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, was a stylishly directed and delightfully performed production that lived up to the opera’s reputation. Its setting, about which more later, was inspired by Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

This was an excellently selected cast with experienced Rossini stylists and three singers new to San Diego. Milan born conductor, Antonello Allemandi, debuting with the company, led the orchestra in a joyously fleet performance of the overture. Rossini tenor John Osborn, a veteran of countless (quel pun!) Almavivas, who recently scored a success in title role of Rossini’s Otello, sang his first scene “Ecco ridente” with clarity and lovely phrasing — though unfortunately, amidst a sinister looking crew of black-cloaked musicians. The appearance of Lucas Meachem making his San Diego debut as Figaro, however, sent sparks flying. There’s no doubt that any one who portrays Figaro, the protagonist of Beaumarchais’ three plays (all made into operas) in which he must rescue Count Almaviva and Rosina, has got to be a commanding presence. It is likely that Beaumarchais, a commoner, who hobnobbed with French royalty (he had dealings with both Louis XV and XVI) modeled Figaro on himself. Figaro may have been factotum to all of Seville, but Beaumarchais was factotum to all of France. Born Pierre-Augustin Caron, the son of a watchmaker — he gave himself the “de Beaumarchais” title somewhere along the line — his escapades were far more world shaking than those of Figaro. Among other things, he was involved in a secret French mission which smuggled arms to American revolutionary forces. San Diego Opera’s factotum, baritone Lucas Meachem, who was debuting with the company, fit the bill. A large man, who dwarfed the cast, he easily “Figaroed” his way into the audience’s heart in a production that had him sliding down to his shop on a brass pole.

BARB1044.gifJohn Osborn as Count Almaviva and Silvia Tro Santafé as Rosina

Spanish mezzo soprano Silvia Tro Santafé, also making her San Diego debut, was a charming Rosina, whose darkly colored voice had all the coloratura and trills that go with the role. Fellow Spaniard, bass, Carlos Chausson, a veteran of more than 200 performances of The Barber of Seville, portrayed her guardian. Though Chausson sang with gusto, as the slimmest, spriest Dr. Bartolo I’ve ever seen, he brought a different view of the character. The production also marked the San Diego debut of Alexander Vinogradov. The thirty-six year old Russian bass, who made his Bolshoi debut when he was twenty one, made a perfectly dour looking Don Basilio and sang his great “calumnia” aria with aplomb and style. Mezzo soprano, Suzanna Guzmán, as Bartolo’s housekeeper, portrayed a mellower Berta than most.

As to the Magritte inspired production — the best that can be said of it, is that it was irrelevant. It added nothing to the opera, but fortunately, took nothing away. Plump little white Magritte clouds motionless on blue skies, were imprinted on the backdrop and on Almaviva’s and Rosina’s blue final scene wedding clothes. The clouds were also fixed on the peach colored walls of Figaro’s shop. There was lots of red in costumes and furnishings, lots of furniture askew. There were floating chairs, oddly placed derby hats, and the storm interlude featured folks rushing back and forth with windblown umbrellas, as if Rossini, master of storm music, wasn’t telling you that already.

BARB1130.gifThe cast of The Barber of Seville

The final scene in this production included the Count’s “Cessa di più resistere”, a difficult aria that Rossini, famous for his musical recyclings, reset as “Non più mesta” for the contralto heroine of his next opera, La Cenerentola (Cinderella). “Cessa di più resistere” has only recently been restored to The Barber of Seville with the arrival on the operatic scene of young tenors able to handle its fiendishly difficult fioratura. John Osborn is one of them, though there was a certain dryness in his voice late in the opera at the performance I attended.

I’ve often wondered what gives The Barber of Seville its appeal. Its love story? Boy and girl are manifestly fated to be together. Two actsful of complications keep them apart. Then in act three, problems are resolved, and the lovers (and audience) go home believing in “happy ever after”? Even if you throw in a prince, that can’t be what makes me want to see it again and again. That it’s revolutionary? Demonstrates that a clever, unschooled barber can solve problems that a wealthy, cultured aristocrat cannot? Sure, in its 1775 French theatrical version. Not for free old me in San Diego in 2012. That it’s a humanistic tale? Inveighs against social injustice, and portrays flawed, complex characters with whom each of us can identify? Possibly.

All these theories have been advanced, and likely others I haven’t yet heard of. But I think it’s simpler than all that. Lazy, melody-laden Rossini with his gift for musical humor threw together the right pieces of music for Beaumarchais’ brilliantly funny, humanistic, revolutionary, love story, and created a work, not only (as Stendhal feared) right for his own time, but for…well, for two hundred years, anyway.

Estelle Gilson

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):