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

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

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):