Notes and Editorial Reviews
Recordings of Il barbiere di Siviglia are a variable lot. A few are complete but, since it is a long opera, most recordings are pruned (usually in the recitatives) to some degree. Many early recordings were based on performance practices that over the years had embellished, abbreviated, or otherwise corrupted the opera. As Rossini’s sun has again risen above the horizon, there is an increased interest in authenticity, and many of his scores have been restored to reflect Rossini’s original intentions. Likewise, recordings of Il barbiere are increasingly more historically informed. Perhaps the most noticeable differences are the roles of Rosina and Berta (soprano or mezzo-soprano), the inclusion of an aria for tenor and chorus Cessa di piu
resistere near the end of the second act, and the interpolation of a soprano aria from his earlier opera Sigismondo to provide the soprano with a second act show piece. Many staged productions divide the work into three acts, but most recordings adhere to the two-act structure Rossini envisioned.
Rossini intended the role of Rosina to be sung by a mezzo-soprano. However, his first Rosina, Geltrude Righetti Giorgi, had an incredible range and chose to sing the part in the soprano keys. Rossini adjusted the vocal lines to accommodate a higher tessitura, and through much of the opera’s history Rosina was firmly in the soprano repertoire. Often, as Rosina sang higher, Berta sang lower to provide a contrast. The return to the mezzo began in earnest in the second half of the 20th century. Teresa Berganza did much to popularize the lower-voiced Rosina, and even notable sopranos Victoria de los Angeles and Maria Callas recorded the role in the lower keys, although both tossed in enough high notes so we wouldn’t forget their true calling. Some recordings were considered significant in the movement to restore Il barbiere. RCA Victor offered a complete recording of the opera in the 1950s. All of the recitatives were included, as was the tenor-chorus aria, Cessa di piu resistere. Rosina, sung by Roberta Peters, was clearly a coloratura soprano. In the mid 1970s, Claudio Abbado recorded the opera (with some cuts) featuring Teresa Berganza, Hermann Prey, and Luigi Alva. Much ballyhoo accompanied its release, informing us that Abbado had based his recording on a score that had been subjected to considerable historical research, cleansed of corruption, and corrected to reflect Rossini’s intentions. These recordings have held up well and have been continuously available since their original issuances. In 1975, Sills, Gedda, and Milnes under Levine recorded a textually complete Il barbiere, and included the soprano aria lifted from Sigismondo. The completeness of the recording was what set it apart, since the performances are satisfactory but not particularly outstanding. Alas, the value of this recording has been diminished by EMI’s bad decision to cut both Cessa di piu resistere and the Sigismondo aria in order to fit the opera on two CDs instead of three. For the CD inclusion of these two pieces, look to Abbado’s other Il barbiere recording with Domingo as Figaro, Frank Lopardo and Kathleen Battle.
Now we come to Nightingale’s new recording of Il barbiere di Siviglia with Vladimir Chernov, Edita Gruberova, and Juan Diego Flórez. It is textually complete (no Sigismondo interpolation), Rosina is sung in the soprano keys, a piano is used for the continuo, it is performed in concert (applause is limited to ends of acts and certain key musical events), and it is very, very good. Gruberova was in her early fifties when the recording was made. A little of the warmth has vanished from her tone, but her top notes are secure, her coloratura, if not as nimble as it once was, is still spectacular, and she’s alert to all of the nuances in the text. In Una voce poco fa, she shows us both sides of Rosina’s character: sweet and demure, but watch out if you cross her!
Juan Diego Flórez and Vladimir Chernov are outstanding as Almaviva and Figaro. Enric Serra sounds appropriately like the old man looking for a young wife. His rendering of “a un dottor” is quick and agile, and conveys all the suspicion and frustration inherent in the number. The real star of the show is conductor Ralf Weikert. He holds this long opera together and keeps affairs moving along merrily. There is a bounce and zest to the performance that sustains the freshness for the nearly three-hour duration. Everyone sounds like they are having a great time, especially during the Finale to the first act.
David L. Kirk, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini
Edita Gruberova (Soprano),
Juan Diego Flórez (Tenor),
Vladimir Chernov (Baritone),
Rosa Laghezza (Mezzo Soprano),
Enrique Serra (Bass),
Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (Bass),
James Anderson (Tenor)
Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Bavarian Radio Male Choir
Written: 1816; Italy
Date of Recording: 11/1997
Venue: Live Philharmonie am Gasteig, Munich, Germany
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