Most helpful positive review
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Black and white in colour
on 30 October 2009
This was my third Barbiere so far this year and it is only May so I was not exactly looking forward to it. I put it on at 9 pm after a hard day's work and watched it right through till after midnight. It was so good that it was like hearing and seeing the opera for the first time. Right from the overture, with Gianluigi Gelmetti conducting the orchestra of the Real Teatre in Madrid, it is clear we are in for something special. The curtain rises to a Seville street scene in black and white. All the characters wear black and white costumes.The effect is strangely beautiful.
The first half hour of this opera, until Rosina's entrance can be a little bit tedious but not in this production. Juan Diego Florèz as Count Almaviva shows why he is currently the world's leading Rossini tenor. I loved his serenade at Rosina's window and the fact that, instead of his pretending to play a guitar, the Spanish guitar player in the orchestra is spotlighted. Then we have the entrance of Figaro, sung by Pietro Spagnoli. Figaro is sometimes played as a bit of a clown but not in this production. He is a very dapper barber in his white waistcoat with black spots. Normally Figaro has the stage to himself when he addresses the audience but in this production, when he sings his "Largo al factotum", he is in a street bustling with people. He even cuts someones hair while he is singing. This is so obvious and natural that I wonder why I have never seen it done before. The idea of having an audience for the big solo numbers is repeated for Don Basilio's aria "La Calumnia" and also during Rosina's music lesson.
I was smitten by Maria Bayo's Rosina. She has a beautiful and very distinctive voice with a little girl timbre but an operatic volume. Her Italian has a charming Spanish accent which seems entirely appropriate. Bruno Praticò as Doctor Bartolo is good fun because he is younger and more repulsive than usual. There is a lot of comic business in this opera and it can sometimes be tedious but not in this production. All the stuff about letters and laundry lists, drunken soldiers and fake music teachers is carried off brilliantly. My only disappointment was the Act I finale, which should be the highlight of the opera. It was too complicated with a platoon of soldiers descending into the orchestra and then reappearing from trapdoors, detracting from the brilliance of Rossini's writing at this point.
Suddenly after three black and white hours, in the final scene, everything bursts into hilarious colour with violently clashing pink, red and crimson costumes. At this point Juan Diego Florèz springs a surprise: he performs the aria that is usually dropped from Il Barbiere that we now all know as the soprano tour de force from the end of La Cenerentola. Not surprisingly the Madrid audience goes wild. I loved it even though I felt slightly disconcerted hearing it sung by a tenor.
This production could not be bettered either visually, musically or dramatically. It restores my faith in a tired old warhorse. It must have been just as exciting as this on the first night in Rome in 1816