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 Performances

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has been a regular favourite at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam since 1996. Her verastile concerts are always carefully constructed and delivered with irrepressible energy and artistic commitment.

Cav/Pag at Royal Opera

When Italian director Damiano Michieletto visited Covent Garden in June this year, he spiced Rossini’s Guillaume Tell with a graphic and, many felt, gratuitous rape scene that caused outrage and protest.

Verdi Giovanna d'Arco, Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Verdi Giovanna d'Arco at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, starting the new season. Primas at La Scala are a state occasion, attended by the President of Italy and other dignitaries.

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):