Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Il barbiere di Siviglia @ Royal Opera House, London

4 July 2009

Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

It’s amazing enough just to sing ‘Cessa di pi resistere’ (the often-cut virtuoso aria in Act II of Il barbiere di Siviglia). To do so whilst physically supporting a Rosina with a broken leg goes way beyond what even ‘super-tenors’ are meant to be able to do.

And what singing it was elegant, graceful, supple in phrasing, liquid in tone, distinct in articulation and aristocratic in manner small wonder that Juan Diego Flórez had to hold on to Joyce di Donato for several minutes more whilst the audience went berserk, the house shaking from Gods to Groundlings.

Flórez is no stranger to such ovations, even his first act aria earning most un-British roars of approval, and rightly so, ‘Ecco ridente’ sung with fluency and tenderness, the phrases placed as evenly as pearls on a string. Flórez cuts a convincing stage figure, too, and his role debut in this house was an absolute success. I’ve written before that this singer’s art is in essence not merely showy and brilliant but characterized by good taste, unfaltering legato and restraint, and so it was here.

The tenor was not the only star of the evening indeed, Joyce di Donato’s Rosina showed every chance of becoming legendary even before she slipped and, it was thought, sprained her ankle it was later found to be a broken fibula, which made her ‘the show must go on’ attitude, brandishing a flower-bedecked crutch in Act II, even more remarkable. This is a really fine mezzo voice, Berganza-like in its opulence and used with wit and style, and ‘Dunque io son’ showed off her truly Rossinian trill. She has hinted that she may well appear for the remaining performances with her leg in plaster what a trouper.

Ferruccio Furlanetto had a huge triumph as a magnificently seedy Don Basilio, his ‘La calunnia’ really setting the teeth on edge, and Alessandro Corbelli followed up his superb comic turn as Sulpice in la fille du Rgiment with a genial Bartolo, his ‘aria’ genuinely funny despite the po-faced translation given on the surtitles. Pietro Spagnoli was standing in for Simon Keenlyside, so it’s not really fair to judge him as if he’d had the same time with the production as all the rest; he presented a hearty, endearing Barber, perhaps a little short on that essential ‘busy’ quality needed, but singing with warmth and of course italianit.

The smaller roles were cast from strength, Jennifer Rhys-Davies just about the most simpatico Berta I’ve heard, and Changhan Lim showing much promise as Fiorello. The chorus was on fine form, and the production looks as dementedly bright and zany as ever I get the point about the windowless walls, but I still don’t care for them, and could not help wondering why the costumes were such a hotchpotch surely last time around, Almaviva did not look as if he’d just walked off the set of Cinderella?

Despite a rather tentative overture, Antonio Pappano directed a buoyant performance, and also played the harpsichord continuo with mischievous glee. Both pit and stage seemed to be spurred on by the exceptional enthusiasm of the audience, which will surely be maintained in the (only) five remaining performances.

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