Notes and Editorial Reviews
GIOACHINO ROSSINI (1792 – 1868): Il barbiere di Siviglia, Opera buffa in two acts Francesco Meli; Bruno De Simone; Rinat Shaham; Roberto Frontali; Giovanni Furlanetto; Giovanna Donadini; Luca Dall’Amico
Orchestra and Choir Teatro La Fenice/Antonio Fogliani
Bepi Morassi, direction; Lauro Crisman, scenes & costumes
Recorded: April 2008
NTSC All Region; SS 5.1/LPCM 2.0; Approx. 155 mins. + 16 mins. of extras
Subtitled in Italian, English, German, French & Spanish
In a time when operas are often set to different contexts from the ones they were intended for, a philological production has its merits, representing both a rediscovery and a provocation.
di Siviglia, which at first sight might appear old-fashioned, restores, in fact, to perfection the setting of an early 19th-centrury Italian theatre. It was a time when the glorious tradition of popular comedy, a direct descendant of the 16th-century “commedia dell’arte”, was very much alive, and the singers entertained the audience with humor that was direct and catchy.
Bepi Morassi’s direction witnesses to the importance of that heritage, based on the improvising skills of actors that came from the common people and needed to communicate concepts of common social life, through colorful costumes, musical instruments and masks modeled on the archetypes of the day.
Humour, which here triumphs, makes of this Barbiere di Siviglia, a truly entertaining visual and audio experience.
Interviews to Bepi Morassi, Fortunato Ortombina Artistic director, Antonino Fogliani, Rinat Shaham, Roberto Frontali, Francesco Meli.
Il barbiere di Siviglia
Antonino Fogliani, cond; Roberto Frontali (
); Francesco Meli (
); Rinat Shaham (
); Bruno de Simone (
); Giovanni Furlanetto (
); Giovanna Donadini (
); Teatro La Fenice O/Ch
DYNAMIC 33597 (171:00) Live: Teatro La Fenice 2008
What we have here is a performance based on the 1969 Zedda edition; so if you’re familiar with variations on the standard Ricordi version, as most of us are, you’re in for a few surprises. The differences are usually small—an instrumental substitution here, a rhythmic substitution there—but the soprano lead has been returned to a mezzo, all repeats are performed, and the more difficult versions of all arias are used. All instances of spoken interjections in place of Rossini’s music for humorous effect have been removed. (An example is Bartolo’s often reluctantly whined “Chi e’?” at the loud knock on his door announcing the arrival of the police.) In other words, this is not only Zedda, it’s militantly observed Zedda. If certain sections of the score seem more longwinded than usual, it’s not because of poor performance, but because we get in full what we’ve previously seen and heard with cuts.
The final arbiter here would appear to be Antonio Fogliani, who also takes an extremely strict approach to the beat. That is, he’s flexible enough during the recitatives as you’d expect, or during the Count’s guitar-accompanied serenade, but when the orchestra plays in full, rhythms are strictly adhered to. The held notes one expects during the arias of Figaro and Basilio simply aren’t there, and if the Count wants to linger during “Ecco, ridente,” he’s repeatedly pulled up short—as occurs in this lifelessly metronomic performance. However, there is an exception, and it’s a big one: Anything that Rosina performs remains anchored to a flexible accompanying line one would expect from a reasonably experienced conductor in this music. Why the switch in standards? Did Fogliani conclude for some reason that only mezzo heroines were allowed sufficient breathing and singing space for their cantabile lines and graceful
, and that all other singers followed a separate tradition, despite evidence to the contrary? When recordings first appeared in the late 19th century, did all the male singers in
conspire in roughly 75 years for equal
rights? In any case, it makes at times for an underwhelming musical experience, despite Fogliani’s obvious rapport with his fine orchestra.
All of which is unfortunate, because in most other respects this is a salutary staging. Lauro Crisman’s sets and costumes are perfectly in period. Director Bepi Morassi does a fine job blocking and handling his performers, finding them motivations for their actions, even discovering some creative solutions that introduce interest during those restored passages. Most of the performers are excellent. Rinat Shaham sings and acts beautifully, and with a lot of character. Francesco Meli offers us a rich, full lyric with ease in coloratura, and an unexpected gift for disciplined parody in both his scheming scholar and soldiering vet. Giovanna Donadini’s Berta is more prominent than usual, acting well, if slightly hard-toned on her high notes. Giovanni Furlanetto, using his height and a shoulder-length wig, creates a wonderfully eerie Basilio, one strong and rich of voice.
Roberto Frontali and Bruno de Simone are in some respects opposites. The former certainly has the right Figaro voice, and manages the figurations in the part accurately, if not always with ease. But his stodgy physical acting and undersized emotional responses clearly contradict both his red Harlequin outfit and the expectations one has from the words of this exuberant mover-of-movers, this shaker-of-foundations. By way of contrast, Simone’s voice is gray in tone, and lacks ample resonance. His patter is excellent, however, and his acting first-rate, among the finest I’ve seen on the opera stage. He never upstages his colleagues, but always remains very much in character, with plenty to do, either in action or reaction to the others. His Bartolo isn’t fat, but certainly old, fussy, pedantic, and curiously charismatic. His is a triumph of skill over voice, and his “A un dottor” receives enthusiastic applause.
The camerawork is good, with few exceptions, focusing on a mix of long, mid, and close shots that establish surroundings while still concentrating on the principals. There are no extras on the disc, but the visuals (16:9 ratio) are excellent, as is the sound (Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 2.0). Subtitles are offered in Italian, English, French, German, and Spanish.
Had Frontali been more of a physical Figaro, and Fogliani willing to accommodate the energy and playfulness that is both implied in the score and present on stage, I would certainly rate this
among the better ones on DVD. As it is, there’s still plenty to enjoy.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini
Rinat Shaham (Soprano),
Luca Dall'Amico (Bass Baritone),
Giovanna Donadini (Soprano),
Bruno De Simone (Baritone),
Giovanni Furlanetto (Bass),
Roberto Frontali (Baritone),
Francesco Meli (Tenor)
Venice Teatro la Fenice Orchestra,
Venice Teatro la Fenice Chorus
Written: 1816; Italy
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